Friday, April 20, 2007

Gratuitous Postcard: At the end of the week

I know I'm not the only person having had a difficult week, since Monday. I wish I had been. I wish it had only been angst over having turned another year older, or over having my hands and feet swell to grotesque sausages for my having been bitten by some damned garden spider yesterday afternoon (no worries. I'm good with the first aid stuffs, & have only a little tender spot and some sensitivity to the touch for it all. Thank all the mercies of science for Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride). I wish I had been the only one who wanted to stay in bed and keep my head well-covered.

No, there are plenty of people who have had a worse work week than mine. And I suspect that some will be a long time coming to a point where they will want to discuss, for example, the horrific events at VTech on Monday.

Not that concern for people's feelings ever stopped a blogger or a newsroom from bringing up such a topic. It is news. So is anything genuinely connected to the case, I guess. Which is why I have come reluctantly to believe that it was right for NBC to make available the video that the pitiable wreck of Cho Seung-Hui made as his manifesto.

News is not best known for being in good taste, after all. I think that feelings are going to be hurt, raw nerves are getting rubbbed, but that's the nature of real news. It ain't all feel-good stuff, no matter what we say we want. Personally, I'd probably have opted out of running the video during prime news hour, and simply said, "It's available at our website," with appropriate caveats. But that's just me. I don't make network news decisions, I just blog and stuff.

People have already tried to make political hay over this mess, too.

I don't know about using it as a platform for gun control, though. If you're bound and determined to do damage, you'll do damage, with or without 10- or 15-hollow-point-bullet magazines, with or without "semi-automatic assault" guns. Gifted crazies have already demonstrated this. And, while I am wholly sympathetic to the cause of protecting the second amendment, I don't know if campus filled with armed, beer-drinking bellicose frat boys and angry socialists/anarchists is such a good idea, after all. And I certainly wouldn't put a gun in the hands of some college profs I know, regardless of how great others may prove themselves to be.

One platform which might suit this case, though, is the mental care system for the people of this country. To put it in street terms, our program sucks. And, I'm sorry to say, the well-meaning folks tied to the ACLU have a large part of the blame in that. Once upon a time, it was possible to hold patients who could not care for themselves, without jumping through miles of legal hoops. Addicts, paranoid schizophrenics, delusional folks of all stripes could be held not merely for observation, but for their own protection. In this instance, eliminating the nanny state has actually done more harm than good. It increased the numbers of homeless people forced out onto the streets, it prevents doctors from guaranteeing patients take necessary meds, it chops budgets so that -- for all intents and purposes -- only the dregs of psychiatry willingly work the system for any great length of time. And it makes people afraid to say or do anything about another's extremely bizarre behavior, lest they be sued for hurting the feelings of the nutcase or his family.

Still, even the best systems fail, from time to time. Who knows whether things might have been different if Cho had seen another, more apparently effective shrink when he was younger? Would he have been salvaged, or would he simply have learned to talk like a normal person for a little while longer, before he blew?

Blame has been misplaced over and over again. This is no place for scapegoating. The police did what they were trained to do. They didn't fail the public. They were simply unprepared for the sucker punch Cho threw everybody. The University's policies for safety and security were developed to a reasonable degree and followed properly. This sort of thing is the rare exception, even in the days following Columbine. If a person lives in Minnesota, he doesn't necessarily prepare his home for hurricane conditions. He does what he can to shield his place and his family from predictable disasters. It's all anybody can rightfully be asked to do.

There is, however, one thing which might be done. On Monday and Tuesday, students were asking for a better communication system for disasters. Our small town has its emergency siren, and it can be heard all over the city and for about a half-mile into the country. We also have the National Weather Service alert systems, the Emergency Broadcast Systems tests and claxons, and so on. These are all very well and good, for those folks who are sitting at home. Not so impressive for the students who commute.

Nearly every student now carries some sort of wireless communications system, be it cell-phone or crackberry. Doesn't it make sense to have an automated call alert, with a special ring-tone & text message? Have each student feed his or her contact info into the system (it can be kept anonymous, if necessary, I'm sure. We have the technology, don't we?), and when something like a lock-down is called for, everybody knows about it. It's not too different from the ancient system of ringing the bell in the church steeple to warn the village of disaster.

And, speaking of churches, who knows what would have happened if today's society had not already been flinging about the finger of blame for all wrongs, back when he was younger? It seems he was well and truly following the path of many others, hating and resenting Christians and the well-to-do, regardless of individual worth. Hatred is like that. It feeds on the next generation's frustration. If there had not been an overt movement in the West against Christianity and Christians, if there had been a little less socialistic promotion of class resentment within the ranks of so very many school faculties, would he have found other targets for his anger, or would his rage have been dissipated for want of that focus? We'll never know.

But maybe I'm scapegoating a little, there.

Time to come up for air.
Postcard:  Tot-In-The-Box

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