April 23, 2007
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner

Cheap Shots

The murderous rampage at Virginia Tech is sad in all respects. It's hard to understand why anger, or despair, or some combination of both would lead a young man to take lives indiscriminately. The human brain is a strange organ and we're not close to grasping why it works as it does.

There is one aspect of the miserable business we do understand however. And that is the rapacious opportunism of journalists. Almost as soon as the news began to emerge from the campus, journalists were eagerly trying to exploit how the Virginia Tech administration reacted to the horror. There is no possibility of counting the number of snide implications that President Charles Steger did not deal with these murders in a proper way. The big question became why he did not "lock down" the campus as soon as he learned two students had been killed.

People who raise such a question are either perfectly cynical -which I think is the case for most of them -- or totally ignorant of what a university campus is. How is a university president supposed to lock down a campus? What does that mean?

A university president is neither a dictator nor a generalissimo. He does direct a campus police force, which is charged with maintaining reasonable order on campus. But it cannot be expected to anticipate and prevent the kind of outbreak that occurred at Virginia Tech yesterday. The truth is, no force in the country can. If the CIA had been in charge of security at Virginia Tech, it wouldn't have been able to stop what happened.

If, in a city of thirty thousand people, the police discovered a murder, would they lock down the entire town? Even if they wanted to, how would they do it? And if somebody refused to be locked down, what would they do? Kill him?

The journalists who are injecting this phony issue into a terrible incident -- including Katie Couric who was shameless about it last night on the CBS News -- are simply adding pain to horrible conditions in order to sensationalize them. They strike me as nauseous.

Zany Land

It may be that the most captivating thing said about the Don Imus affair came from the lips of Snoop Dogg (former Snoop Doggy Dogg). I'm tempted to print it for you here but, truth is, I'm too much of a scaredy-cat. You can find it in all its glory beginning on the bottom of page 25 in The New Yorker for April 23rd. I'll paraphrase by saying merely that Mr. Dogg explains that the sort of young women he and his fellow rap artists often sing about are not "no collegiate basketball girls."

The collegiate basketball girls in question were reported by some to be injured beyond recovery. But, actually, there's another way to view their experience. They were also widely extolled as the most intellectually accomplished and morally uplifted group of college students in all history. That may be the case but, perhaps, there needs to be additional investigation before they are raised to quite that height. This sort of renown tends to be temporary, anyway, but to the degree the Rutgers players are enjoying it now they owe it to Don Imus.

What is, probably not so temporary is the belief, widely held in America, that they won the NCAA basketball championship. I have heard that said by at least a half-dozen TV commentators for whom sports seems not to be their normal beat.  If you wanted to descend into casuistry, you could argue that the people who will suffer the longest injury from all this are the members of the University of Tennessee team, about whom we have heard little lately. They may be able to carry forward into old age saying honestly that they are the players who actually won the year that many, and maybe most, people think it was Rutgers.

Although Mr. Imus lost his job, it could be that he will find another, and even rise again. One thing is for sure. He would not have been proclaimed a good man nearly as often if he had not done the universally denounced bad thing. Whether these compliments make up for the pain only he can answer. But his goodness has certainly been celebrated more widely than ever before.

Thus do events proceed in American media world. If there is a rational pattern to them it has not yet been made evident to me. Where are the evolutionary psychologists when we really need them?

Now We Know

At least we now have a full explanation of the killing at Virginia Tech, provided to us by Franklin Graham. Satan did it. Mr. Graham doesn't say why Satan chose the campus in Blacksburg for his latest depredations. I guess it could be he doesn't know, although that's hard to believe, because Mr. Graham appears to know just about everything.

Until recently, when I was presented with a revelation of this kind, I would merely smile and go on to the next story. But lately, my patience has worn a little thin. I grow weary of the Franklin Grahams of the world, or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say I grow weary of people who think their stupidity is newsworthy.

There is a significant issue lurking here. It's the question of how much responsibility one bears for total abdication of intelligence. If journalists would dig into that query, I'd be happy to give them my attention. But when they simply report some freakish thing a man said as though it were an utterance of significance, I find myself putting them in the same bag as the pronouncer.

Can Franklin Graham help himself? Can any of us help ourselves? Are we all fated to say what we're going to say, regardless of fact or mental ability? I suspect that's one of the questions we'll never be able to answer, but I do think that struggling with it could have some positive effect. What will not have a positive effect is appearing to accord sincere consideration to statements we know are idiotic.

I'd be happy to discuss with anyone -- including Mr. Graham himself -- why he says what he says. But to relate his prognostications to what actually happens in the world, to respond as though they enlighten us about history, is a dalliance I can no longer afford.

Pull Up Your Socks

I turned on my TV last night and learned that Secretary of Defense Gates had gone to Baghdad to put the Iraqis on notice. On the day he arrived, someone set off a big bomb in the city not far from the prime minister's house. I wondered if Gates was going to put the bombers on notice also.

Whether he does, or not, I suspect the bombers will respond to Gates pretty much as other Iraqis have. They don't seem to pay much attention to what he says. It's hard to imagine a people who don't worry about being on notice, especially when they were put there by a figure as eminent of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. But, imagine it or not, that seems to be how they are. The recalcitrance on their part could raise the suspicion that the leaders of our government don't know much about the people they are trying to guide towards the promised land of being just like Americans are.

Do you suppose Gates looked Maliki straight in the eye and said, "I'm putting you on notice!" Do you think Maliki cringed when he heard that? Gates strikes me as being something of a poppy-cocky man. I'm not sure I would feel intimidated if he put me on notice. But it seems to be the case that, at the least, Maliki is more intimidated by other figures than he is by Gates. And I can't say I blame him. Consequently, I have little faith that having Maliki on notice is going to change anything.

Maliki better watch out, though. If he doesn't get his act together - as we say here in America -- President Bush might send somebody else to put him on notice. Then, he'll really be in trouble.

In a Little Too Deep?

I'm not persuaded by the journalistic cliché making the rounds in Washington now that Alberto Gonzales is a nice man but that in trying to run the Justice Department he's in over his head. Maybe that's because when it comes to politics I don't know anymore what a nice man is. Anybody who carried out the function Gonzales did in helping the Texas state killing machine do its work while Bush was governor seems to me to have stepped outside the bounds of niceness.

Leaving aside how nice Gonzales is, I doubt he's completely isolated from the political actions being taken by the Justice Department. Chris Matthews continues to portray him as someone who remains ignorant of what's going on while Karl Rove stays on the phone to second and third level people at the department to push the White House's dirty work. Rove may well be making such calls, but it's unlikely Gonzales doesn't know about them.

We have to wonder why the famed missing e-mails remain missing. Might some of them be between Rove and Gonzales, showing that the attorney general was fully apprised of White House machinations?

The guise of innocent dope who can't remember anything, which Gonzales drapes over himself every time he goes to testify to a Congressional committee, is simply too convenient to be believed. And I doubt that anyone who has actually paid attention to the Justice Department during Gonzales's tenure does believe it. That's why all Republican support for the attorney general has disappeared. Lots of people think damning revelations are on the way, and not even Republicans want to be linked to them when they hit the light of day.


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