Monday, January 10, 2011

Jared Loughner: Lunatic. That is all.

Not that anyone could escape the news, but a guy named Jared Loughner took a handgun and shot a bunch of people at a political event held at a Tuscon, AZ Safeway on Saturday. 20 people have been shot, including the Congresswoman holding the event, Gabrielle Giffords, who is hospitalized with a bullet wound to the head and is in what I must presume is mortal peril, and six others are dead.

It's pretty bad stuff.

But whenever tragic events like this happen, I am always reminded of two things. They are linked, but may seem strange to anyone without access to my trains of thought.
  1. Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold. Columbine High School, Colorado. 1999.
  2. Naomi Klein is an idiot.
I'll get back to that in a minute... But first, here's my point:

Tragic and shocking events are inevitably proceeded by a cadre of journalists, and now bloggers and pundits and basically anyone with the ability & inclination to opine on these kinds of affairs attempting to come up with a "rational" explanation for why the event occurred.

On the part of professional journalists, this is remarkably shoddy reporting - as they typically, and certainly did in this case, just latch on to whichever supposed "influences" fit their current narrative... Usually with little to no evidence, or at best with utterly cherry-picked information and ignoring everything else that might be contradictory. On the part of pretty much everyone, it is all incredibly bad thinking.

Already, people are coming up with their various theories on why Loughner did what he did.

Numerous people, such as Sen. Dick Durban and others, have brought up some dubious Sarah Palin connection. Yawwwwn. What's their evidence? A "crosshairs" map that Palin had promoted via her powerful social networking presence on Twitter before the mid-term elections last year with representatives who she (and others as it turned out) felt needed to be out of a job.

Palin's Map... 
The San Francisco Chronicle editorial blog had a bit of a hissy fit about even entertaining the idea that maybe... just maybe... that map wasn't the cause of Loughner's decision to spray bullets at a crowd of people:
"Louhner shot 14 people; six are dead. And some political anchors claim there's no direct connection with Former Governor Palin.

Like hell there's not.

Palin's helped extremist conservative groups attack and protest Giffords, planting the seeds for the idea that harm should come to the Congresswoman (and all over the Heath Care issue), and so much so that Giffords herself mentioned Palin's approach and it's possible consequences."
They also claim that the map is still up on Palin's Facebook page or whatever (which, as I am not a Palin fan or "Facebook friend", I do not plan on checking), and they demand:
"Sarah Palin, take down that damn map, NOW!"
Funny thing though... They haven't demanded that the Democrat Leadership Council take down their map, which they put up back in 2004 campaigning against Republicans and - at the time - incumbent President Bush's re-election bid. Check it out:

DLC map from 2004, which as of this posting is shockingly (!!) still up on their website.
But of course, according to other boring liberal pundits, it's impossible to find comparable rhetoric in years past. It's only this insane "Tea Party" moment that has everything unglued... Like this perfectly reasonable statement from our old friend Paul Krugman:
"Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials."
Yeah... It's SOOOOOOOOOOOO hard to find examples of Democrats promoting violence, using hyperbolic imagery or uh... creating political maps with bullseye targets on them.


Does not advocate the assassination of a president...
I guess I should be used to Paul Krugman being utterly wrong about everything by now, but he still has a job... So I guess I have to keep pointing it out.

Unfortunately, this has been the general meme of a lot of mainstream news on TV and certainly all over teh intertubez. Jared Loughner was "motivated" by the "extreme rhetoric" of the Tea Party... Olbermann & Maddow are blaming Sharon Angle and Glen Beck, of course... And since these same news outlets have been reporting on the "inevitability" of violence for about two years - first because of a "Black President" (ZOMG!!), then because of grassroots anti-tax/anti-spending movements, then because of the codified "Tea Party", and kicking it all into high gear during election-season last year - events like this are a perfect opportunity for confirmation bias.

That isn't to say that everyone has gone totally bonkers with all this stuff.

Most surprisingly to me, here's a more reasonable quote from Time Magazine pointing out that while he had posted numerous videos online ranting against "government":
"What is not clear is what role politics — and, in particular, the red-hot rhetoric of the mid-term elections — played in the shooting. Descriptions one of Loughner's high school classmates posted on Twitter only added to the mystery. "He had a lot of friends until he got alcohol poisoning in '06, & dropped out of school. Mainly loner very philosophical," @caitieparker tweeted. "As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal. & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy." And, most ominously, "He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in '07, asked her a question & he told me she was 'stupid & unintelligent.'""
And as the folks at Natural News pointed out:
"The shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner, is, by any sensible interpretation, mentally deranged. Yes, he mentioned the Constitution among his various ramblings, but he also listed the Communist Manifesto as being among his favorite books. In addition, he released a YouTube video containing unintelligible ramblings of repeated nonsense phrases, including references to the government taking away "grammar," of having a colorful bird on his shoulder, brainwashing and what he called "conscience dreaming.""
There have also been a few reports about Loughner being a fan of Mein Kampf.

And herein lies the rub...

People like Loughner do not have a coherent political or ethical philosophy. They aren't meaningfully influenced by some stupid map drawn up by Sarah Palin's "Political Action Committee" in an election year - which by the way, I don't see anything wrong with at all (how else do you highlight the districts that need specific "political action" from your point of view?) - any more than it's J.D. Salinger's fault that Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon.

And here we come back to why I always think of Columbine.

When that tragedy happened, the instantaneous reaction of nearly everyone in the media was to find something to blame. The kids wore black trench coats, so we were told that signs of disturbed teens included wearing black. Never mind that half the kids I went to school with in the late 90's wore black all the time. Anyone who was into heavy metal or grunge music, a lot of rap and/or "goth" sub-culture was a prime candidate. And once pundits figured that out, they started blaming heavy metal, grunge, industrial, and rap music along with "goth" culture. Their favored target: Marylin Manson... Even though you'd be hard pressed to find anything remotely violent in virtually any of his songs or albums.

And this is after a massive drop since 1980!
But they didn't stop there!

Oh no, not only was it the fault of music & fashion statements - it was also the fault of video games! Yep... Loner kids who grew up during the spawn of the internet - just as I did, mind you - were violent because video games made them so.

Never mind that you can't throw a dart at a map without hitting the location of some kid playing Halo, Call of Duty or Gears of War anywhere in the United States - and let's also toss out the reality that according to Federal Government crime statistics, youth violence is at a 30-year low... Which, given the rise of video gaming as a well-over $10 Billion a year industry, seems odd, don't you think?

Never mind ALL of that. We found ourselves a scape-goat, and by god the media ran with it for weeks. And where did  it lead?

Exactly the opposite of where Naomi Klein told me it would!

Klein, you may remember, authored the book "The Shock Doctrine: Rise of Disaster Capitalism". From her own website (which you can google if you want to see it, as I have no intention of giving her any more hits than her sycophants already provide if at all possible), Klein says:
"The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world-- through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries."
Her broader thesis is that any time some kind of emergency of "shock" happens in a society, we miraculously become more economically "free"...

It would be positively astounding if Klein had presented a single shred of true evidence for her idea, but of course, she didn't... And she can't. Why? Because every single time there is some kind of crisis we all become LESS FREE, not more!

After Columbine, we got Zero-Tolerance and "Gun Free Zones". These policies, like virtually all political jive, tend to "sound" like great and sensible ideas, but in reality just wind up putting people in far more danger from the law itself and make us no safer from the kinds of things they're designed to prevent.

For instance - we recently saw the case of 17 year old Ashley Smithwick, who is among the many hundreds of people suspended and frequently prosecuted (and sometimes convicted & saddled with criminal records) for the violation of Zero-Tolerance laws in spite of all common sense. Smithwick was accidentally toting about a paring knife in her father's lunch-box, which he had intended to use to cut his own apple at lunch. There are many people who have their lives turned upside down in these cases in some blind, letter-of-the-law approach to "solving" school violence... And the "solutions" don't even work!

But the fact is, you're as likely to be shot via mass-shooting in a "Gun Free Zone" as you are basically anywhere else, and perhaps a bit more-so, given the tendency towards mass shootings near government buildings like post-offices (which have always been "gun-free" zones) and schools. In spite of presumably good intentions, these laws certainly did not help the people at Fort Hood, in Texas or the students of Virginia Tech. And gun-control certainly hasn't helped the residents of Washington, D.C.

Jacob Hornberger pointed out the obvious reasons why:
"As libertarians have pointed out, time and time again, would-be murderers don’t give a hoot for gun-control laws. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if would-be murderers are willing to violate laws against murder, it is certain that they will have no reservations about violating gun-control laws.

Therefore, what gun control accomplishes is a disarming of people who would otherwise have the ability to defend themselves from would-be murderers. The peaceful, law-abiding citizenry is forced into simply dodging bullets from the murderer’s illegally possessed guns until the cops arrive."
But that's the legacy of our country's knee-jerk response to events like Columbine.

And it's happening all over again... But this time, the target isn't so much guns (although I have no doubt that the Safeway shooting will result in new calls for even more useless "gun control" laws) but something far more insidious.

Now - within two days of this tragic shooting - some people are calling for all manner of laws inhibiting people's freedom of speech!

Democratic Congressman, Bob Brady has announced his intention to introduce "new" legislation banning the:
"...use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a federal official or member of Congress."
Past, Present, Future or Fiction?
And who, pray-tell, decides how imagery is "perceived", Mr. Brady? You? Some faceless bureaucrat at the FCC or some new speech-prohibiting agency your law dreams up? Will they be going out to political rallies and making people put away signs with shocking images of political figures with bullet-holes in their brains, or with coat-hangared fetuses? Will they be traipsing around the United States with flame-throwers strapped to their backs ready to burn the wrong books and magazines?

Credible threat? Or...
Badge of an idiot?
Is this "Kill Bush" satchel [on right] "threatening"?

Are Palin's or the Democratic Leadership Council's maps "threatening"? What about people who have no other substantial political voice... By using hyperbole to get attention, are they "threatening" anyone?

What precisely is so difficult to understand about the First Amendment?

It's one of the shortest... It's language is strikingly clear... And it's a really spectacularly good idea. Freedom of speech may very well be the best idea anyone has had in the entire course of human history. Look... Easy to understand:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
See... Simple! No law. Done. Finite.

But the second some jerk shoots a Congresswoman we have even more (and in some ways, worse) jerks calling to abandon the principles of free speech that under-gird a legitimately free society. Jerks like Bob Brady - or like Rep. Jim Clyburn, who wants a new version of the "Fairness Doctrine", which would allow lawmakers or their bureaucratic lackeys to decide what constitutes "balance" in the media (and which, when it existed before, was unsurprisingly heavily weighted towards the government and against most outsider views).

This is why I always think of Naomi Klein when tragedies shock the nation... And it's why she is an idiot.

Extreme and shocking world events never make us more free or benefit "the free market" as she claimed... They are always used as an excuse for the leviathan state to grow and usurp MORE authority over the people. The state grows & liberty shrinks. We won't become more free as a result of this anymore than we became "more free" after 9/11.

Not economically, not politically and not socially.

We won't be more free to go out to places like Safeway and acquire material goods voluntarily & peacefully, especially not if there happens to be a public official anywhere nearby. We certainly won't be more free to buy firearms or to carry them in the places where the tools of life or death defense might be worthwhile (such as when randomly being shot at by an indiscriminate madman)...

We won't be more free to read & listen to networks & individual people of our own choice. And if Clyburn has his way, the individuals & organizations who promote news and commentary will be markedly less free to decide for themselves which views they want to espouse and for which reasons.

People in America are - and should be - free to state their case as they see it and in whichever way they want.

Palin's map wasn't a call for assassination any more than the DLC's map was, and there's no evidence that a guy like Jared Loughner even saw the map, much less that it remotely influenced his decision to shoot almost indiscriminately at a large crowd. People trying to politicize this issue want to blame whoever and whatever fits their pre-defined narrative, and politicians are already stepping up to exploit these events to further separate the ruling class from everyone else.

It's not "disaster capitalism" or "disaster free markets"... But disaster totalitarianism!

As usual.

Note that Brady's law wouldn't make it illegal to threaten "anyone", by the way... Just other people in Government. More special protections for him - and more ability for the people already in power to decide what constitutes acceptable speech.

Think it's wise to give these people the power to decide who is saying "the right things" or to be the arbiter of "tone"?

I don't.

Besides... Credible threats of violence are already illegal, and they can be used as evidence for obtaining warrants and restraining orders. However, for a threat to be "credible", it has to meet a specific legal definition and not the nebulous political whim of a Senator. That is to say:
The term credible threat means a threat that is “real and immediate, not conjectural or hypothetical.”
Kegler v. United States DOJ, 436 F. Supp. 2d 1204, 1212 (D. Wyo. 2006)
Real and immediate, not conjectural or hypothetical. So I guess that Kill Bush satchel doesn't count.

And that - I suspect - is precisely why people like Clyborn or Brady want more power. People speaking out against the actions of government are really hard to restrain. Calls to limit speech, and the inevitable calls on more ineffective restrictions on gun-ownership have got nothing to do with Loughner - who as far as I think anyone knows has no over-arching or particularly rational political motivation at all.

It's just about the expansion of the state, and this "shock" is going to be yet another in a long string of opportunities to further enhance the authority of the government and those running it against the actions of ordinary people.

And so it is that I will leave you all with one final question: Why exactly is Gabriele Gifford's life so much more valuable than everyone else's?

Why is it more valuable than Christina-Taylor Green's?

My heart goes out to that family, and to the families of the other 4 people who were shot dead, more even than to Gifford... This whole thing is a shame, but it would be a much greater shame to let this tragedy turn into yet another opportunity for fear-mongering and bad ideas to get the best of liberty in America.


David Blanar said...

Really? Is it so hard to tell the difference between a map with states targeted, and a map with individuals targeted? You don't think it makes a whit of difference?

Of course it's not impossible to find instances of similar types of hyperbolic imagery; I can find individuals who believe all manner of things. Heck, there's even a flat earth society. That's not what we're talking about.

This is about groups and institutions with power, reach and influence promulgating violent images and rhetoric. Granted, I think it mostly for political ends (and sometimes entertainment); I don't actually think Sarah Palin believes half the crap she spouts, and the less said about the nonsense spewing out of Limbaugh's mouth the better.

This is not about fringe elements, it's about mainstream agents of power and the words they use to sublimate their opponents.

You're on much safer ground with your criticism of new legislation being proposed in the wake of these disasters. It would be a massive mistake and I'm sure cooler heads will prevail.

David Blanar said...

Here you go ... apparently, there's a few people who do believe that Sarah Palin believes what she's saying.

Wikileaks Calls for Sarah Palin's Arrest

I'd be interested in your take on Wikileaks. Scion of transparency, or threat to liberty?

Sean W. Malone said...

Hey David,

I'll try to respond piece by piece here.

1. "Is it so hard to tell the difference between a map with states targeted, and a map with individuals targeted?"

Not hard to tell "the difference", however, I don't think it makes as much difference as you seem to think as the iconography is identical and the basic premise is the same - it's about using the imagery of a target to defeat a political opponent... Furthermore, on that point: It wasn't Palin who labeled the map a "Hitlist", but rather the folks at sites like Daily Kos, who within minutes of the shooting turned around and said "Mission Accomplished, Sarah".

This is the utter essence of straw man fallacy, and that's been the basic nature of the media's relationship to Palin for two years... And frankly, THAT is what's mostly annoyed me about the whole thing.

Palin is the quintessential "straw man". She's a fabulous distraction that allows people who don't want to talk about real issues to overreact to anything & everything she does and keep the discussion focused on whatever circus she's involved in - instead of dealing with more serious people making real arguments.

2. "Of course it's not impossible to find instances of similar types of hyperbolic imagery; I can find individuals who believe all manner of things."

Surely you remember the Bush years, don't you? I mean, that's the part about this that just blows my mind... The Bush years, in terms of rhetoric was as bad as anything I've ever seen and easily as bad as almost any presidency throughout history for violent imagery and oppositional rhetoric.

It's not just "instances", David. It was pretty much the entirety of the left for 8 years. For godsake, there was even a film made called "Death of a President" about the assassination of GW Bush.

And speaking of the Daily Kos, I would assume that counts as a "real group" or institution, and there was - of course - this:

From which the following statements were made last year...

“..I'd argue that we can narrow the target list by looking at those Democrats..”

“.. this vote certainly puts a bulls eye on their district.”

It's all the same stuff... And you can go back a long way and find that this kind of thing is common place in all election years. But some how... THIS year, it's all different? No.

The fact is, what's different is that the teams changed positions on the field. But the game is the same...

What's annoying to me is, speaking from my vantage as an "outsider" in many ways, each few years the teams change places like this and it all starts over and I have to endure hyperbole and overreactions by people who can't even remember what their own "side" did a year ago.

It's PURELY political posturing and cheap opportunism... Especially cheap considering that much of the media has already concocted a patently ridiculous story just to fit that existing narrative and while glossing over the deaths of 6 people.

3. The idea that you have some kind of moral high ground by insinuating that the "offenses" of the Republicans are major and that the only comparable examples for your team are "fringe" is silly... Both parties engage in hyperbolic nonsense constantly.

And it's mostly just a remarkably disingenuous distraction.

Sean W. Malone said...

Do you think for an instant that when Keith Olbermann was insinuating that Rand Paul, for instance, wanted to re-institute Jim Crow laws that THAT couldn't have easily "influenced" someone to commit serious violence? And further more, the market for apparel, patches, stickers, bags, magnets, etc. for imagery invoking the murder or assassination of Republican or "conservative" figures - especially, as noted, Bush - is positively immense. This isn't about the "fringe". It's about a really massive number of people who are now totally willing to forget everything they said for 8 years and to ignore their own actions of even a few months ago just in order to keep their narrative on track.

In a couple years, this will all flip again and it will be Republicans claiming that no one in the history of the world has been as rhetorically violent or dishonest as their out-of-power Democrat opponents... and I will be here again writing the same kinds of things with the names flipped.

The fact is there are two possibilities here.

Either people can accept the idea that just maybe someone like Loughner was not motivated by the bogey-man du jour, and was in fact not a puppet but indeed made his own decisions... regardless of how crazy those decisions may have been or how incoherent and irrational the philosophy behind them.


You can accept the idea that it was your bogeyman's fault based on a complex series of assumptions and a hyper-developed conception of one person's direct influence on everyone else... And of course, you'll be putting your foot in your mouth repeatedly when it comes out that your preferred "leaders" engaged in the same damn stuff.

I know which point of view Occam's Razor favors, and I know which is more tenable as a historically valid and philosophically consistent viewpoint.

As far as I'm concerned, most of what you've written above and most of what I've heard/seen/read in the media about this issue is a big pile of confirmation bias. Especially, ironically, the Palin bits...

If Loughner had been influenced by her to hate Giffords - then why, pray tell, did he already harbor a grudge against the woman in 2007 - a year before Palin was even known as a political figure and 3 years before the map? And for that matter, what proof does anyone have that the guy even saw the stupid map to begin with?

I sure as hell didn't until the other day.

Seriously though, David... Stop and consider exactly how many assumptions you have to make about how many different things in order to get from Sarah Palin's map to Jared Loughner.

Just for the record - it's a ludicrously large number.

Sean W. Malone said...

Sean W. Malone said...

Oh yeah... also - on the subject of Wikileaks.

I think Julian Assange is probably a world class douchebag... However, I think Wikileaks is a phenomenally important check on the abuses of bad government - hopefully all over the world.

I don't really keep up with what Palin said on the issue, but if she was one of the many idiots calling for Assange's assassination, then she's an even more horrendous person than I thought. Aside from anything else, Wikileaks is just the clearing house for other people's leaks - it's just the "messenger" - so not only are calls for assassinating their leadership a gross violation of morality and a clear sign of contempt for the truth, they're also misdirected.

So I'm not a fan of that at all.

But....... Still doesn't mean Palin had anything to do with the extreme actions of Jared Loughner. I hope you don't fall into the trap of believing that because I would rise to the "defense" (in a very narrow scope) of somebody like Palin when she is being incorrectly tied to the actions of a lunatic that I actually like or respect her at all.

To the extent that I think about her, I think she's an opportunistic idiot.

Hope that answered your question.