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 Home Page.

Obsolete Page
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 There are many interesting articles here, but this section is no longer being updated.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 The Family Court Philosopher. (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 | Sun search. Although the criminal case has been resolved, civil lawsuits between the families continue.

appealSee case law.

attachment — 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?

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AWOL — See failure to maintain placement.

§ 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 documentation.) The etiology of the disease can be both hormonal and existential. 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 over it.

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, 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 hear them.

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 even more.

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 disclosure.... Bite control means occasionally not doing your job in order to serve some higher purpose.

black holen. 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.

Of the 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 plan.

"Someone left the barn door open," says the judge.

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 effect.

"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," they explain.

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 myself.

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 this situation.

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 resources.

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.


boundaries — 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 boyfriend 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) — A usually incurable mental illness where a person is unable to regulate their own emotions due to a fundamental deficit of core self-esteem.

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.

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Caliente Youth Camp — A minimum security juvenile detention facility run by the state. Official info | 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). (Caliente 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. Website. Similar to other programs around the country. From their website:
    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 differences.

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.

Lawyers get involved.

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certification — 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 (62B.330). 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.

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§ charity — 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 and lasting 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 strategizing 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. [12/26/05]

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 webpage (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 Clark County 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?

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Magician 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" (Agassi, Alchu, Beazer, Bigelow, Howard, Nork, O'Bannon) plus an administration building and a school (run by the Clark County School District). Official Info | Sun photos

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 can't do.

circle c'ed — The condition of having received a "circle-C" (©) on our People Page. According to the page, "C" stands for "connection".

§ cocoon — /k&-'kün/ n. The protective envelope that we all tend to spin around ourselves to protect us from the pain and tragedy of the world. 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 surprised.

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 system.

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 get tough.

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 lectures given.

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. They serve 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 worldwide.

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 system.

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.


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covet — /'k&-v&t/ v. A biblical 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 them. 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 FUCKING CRAZY!!!!!"

§ creepy — 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 boundaries and not being honest about ones motivations. Contrast with spooky, which 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.

crisis mode — 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?

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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.

DFS — The Clark County Department of Family Services, the agency responsible for child protection and foster care in Las Vegas. Here is a Staff List for DFS (432 names). Here are some useful pages from the DFS website that may be hard to locate: Office Locations | Computer Services | History of Child Welfare in Nevada, by Thom Reilly | Information Page on Adoption and Foster Care

dinosaur — A county 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.

engulfment — /en-'g&lf-m&nt/ n. 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.

That's engulfment.

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... smothered. Help!

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 free.

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 oppressive, only that victim is not strong enough to oppose it. Even normal, healthy love can be engulfing sometimes.

§ existentialism — /ek-sis-'ten(t)-sh&-"li-z&m/ n. A theory of philosophy which contends that "what you see is what you get." Life has no meaning or purpose apart from 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. Examples....

§ evil — /'E-v&l/ n. 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 yourself.

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.

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§ extrajournalistic — Any human 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.

§ extrajudicial — Any human 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 — (FTMP) 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).

It's an 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 more.

A recent news article on the topic says:

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 problem.

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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.

You 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.

§ freedom — /'frE-d&m/ n. 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 happen.

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.

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§ 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 gay marriage.

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.

I want to ban marriage altogether.

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graffiti — /gr&-'fE-tE/ n. 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 neighborhoods.

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) suggested 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.)

(Sun article on graffiti. Asks the right questions but doesn't adequately answer them.)

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 society.

hooked — The condition of having received an upside-down question mark (¿) on our People Page. (Looks like a hook.)

§ 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 your wallet. 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.

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“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, while not saying it often enough allegedly causes relationships to fail. Unfortunately, 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....

§ 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 scope management.

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 better parent. 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.

Judge Hardcastle has written an article expressing similar misgivings (summary, citation). In early 2005, he and other Family Court judges successfully lobbied to defeat a bill that would have made joint custody the preferred solution in Nevada (article). [12/25/05]

judge — /'j&j/ n. 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 comfortable having 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 always appeal it. 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 popular election.

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 practice. 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, incompetent judges get elected and good ones get thrown out, but at least the system stays dynamic and power doesn't become too entrenched. [12/28/05]

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 you.

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, personality-driven process.

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 sounded right?

Now, are you telling me that you had to get a divorce, and things didn't turn out as you hoped they would?

I guess you got what you deserved then, didn't you?

justice — 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 justice.

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Juvenile Customer Service Representative (JVCSR)n. My term for a Juvenile Public Defender, the 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 be lagging).

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 run.

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.

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Glen Lerner
The Heavy Hitta
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 crude and 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
love — /'l&v/ n. 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...

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 common.

§ 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 directly.

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 important.

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Nevada Youth Training Facility — A medium(?)-security youth detention facility located in Elko in Northern Nevada. Official website | DCFS info.

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!

paradoxical attractionn. 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 time.

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 yourself.

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 against.

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 those perversions.

(Not that I have any interest in that.)

§ paranoia — 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 defend themselves.

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.

PBFH — "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. [12/20/05]

§ personality — An individual's 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 of charity. 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. They 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:

  1. 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. (Adaptation.)

  2. 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. (Corrupted motivation.)

  3. 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 will starve. (Dependence.)

  4. 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. (Deification.)

  5. When you feed the pigeons, they are going to create a scene and crap all over the place. (Noise.)

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.

Whenever 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. [12/26/05]

§ 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.

For example, 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.

§ reality — /rE-'a-l&-tE/ n. 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 others.

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 you?

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!

sex — /'seks/ n. 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 useless 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. Oh, brother, 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 sit out.

sperm donor — The male entity who contributed the genetic material for a child but who has taken no significant responsibility for raising him.

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 he does.

"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.

Links: Google for "Narcissistic Personality Disorder". Case study: Kid Vegas.

§ spooky — /'spü-kE/ adj. 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 a mystery.

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.) There 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.

Unlike creepy, 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. To discuss 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 trooper.

§ stupid — /'stü-p&d/ adj. 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 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 reality.

The criminal justice system is rich with examples of spectacular stupidity. 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 head 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). Official info.

“'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 really wants.

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 call.

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 Peersn. 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. Official website | news article (1/30/06) | our criticisms. [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."   official information.

§ triage — /trE-'äzh/ n. The assignment of limited resources to an overwhelming need so as to maximize their positive end effect.

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.

More on Triage

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. movie info, trailer, Google.

“wardship terminated” — 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 Hardcastle) and usually at the request of the ward himself.

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 was over.

"Wardship terminated."

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 never?

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?
Audio sample (middle of page)

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 marriage material.

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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