Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nominalizing Violence

I watched the news from when it was breaking. There was a report of playgrounds that had been covered with sulphuric acid, and how a little boy was hospitalized with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. I wondered if this was some sort of lame terrorist attack, or something related to 4/20.

Four Twenty, April 20th, is the anniversary of the Columbine massacre. And Hitler's birthday. And the prophet Muhammed's birthday. After some further investigation, I learned that four twenty is an emblem of marijuana for the pop counter-culture. Boulder, Colorado -- where I work -- is the marijuana capital of the United States. But the 420 phenomenon has "nothing" to do with Columbine. Right. It's just pure escapism. In fact, it's an anti-Columbine, anti-Hitler, anti Islamic extremism. Denial.

Later in the morning, while I was hoping for more information about the playground acid attacks, news came out about a shooting at Virginia Tech University. One dead. It was reported on the university web site. How Fox News channel keeps abreast of breaking news that is reported on a web site, I do not know. While I looked for more information about the playground acid attack, Fox News went into story loop mode.

Sometimes when they start story looping, they get stuck on something insignificant. I remember a time when they spent all day story looping on an avalanche up on highway 40. Only two cars were covered, but they made it sound like the whole mountainside came down, and dozens, maybe hundreds of cars were buried under miles of snow. Once they got pictures, it was just a little tiny snow slide that covered a couple of 30 or 50 yard sections of the road. I couldn't stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the coverage.

Then there was a press conference at Virginia Tech. 20 reported dead. The scroller reported 22 dead according to the AP. That was the first indication that this was something serious. Throughout the day the death toll climbed to 32, then to 33.

One of the questions that continues to haunt the authorities is why didn't they take action sooner to secure the campus. The explanation was that the initial shooting with two fatalities appeared to be an isolated incident. Sounds like denial to me. Denial that a killer on the loose is a threat. One of the students was told to go to class but proceed with caution. "Caution of what? A gunman running loose killing people?"

Another person reported how people play violent video games as a means of training. The Columbine killers played Doom. Grand Theft Auto has been condemned. The violent, ground-breaking movie Matrix came out shortly before Columbine, and has been implicated as an inspiration. There's the Super Columbine Massacre RPG that made the news last year. The current interviewee continued that people like this will specifically train for hours, with the intent of desensitizing themselves to the violence that they are about to inflict, so that they focus on their horrid task, without being overcome by either emotion or adrenaline.

As I write this, there is another school in lockdown in Texas at St. Edwards after receiving a bomb threat. There were bomb threats at Virginia Tech last Friday, and earlier in the month -- 4/2 and 4/13. And there was a shooting at that university in August, where a policeman was killed. I think that these events have desensitized the Virginia Tech community to the threats. As if every time somebody calls in a bomb threat or shoots someone, it's just somebody else crying wolf. Maybe that's why the original response by the university and the police was so limited.

I wondered if this might be the beginning of a rash of Columbine-style copycat shootings over the whole week, leading to Friday 4/20/07. If this happens, this would be the beginning of the end. If the nation ends up in a police state because of rampant violence, then there will be an uprising, a revolution.

As I pulled into my driveway this morning, the radio guys, Lewis and Floorwax, were talking over the incident. Their observations were that these school shootings happen about once or twice a year now. Charles Whitman in 1966. Columbine. 9/11, which changed everything. Platte Canyon High School last year. The Amish school last year. There's a long list of school shootings. When I grew up, violence didn't touch my life. There were the schoolyard fist fights, but never guns. Now, these shootings and massacres are becoming so prevalent that one must just turn off the news, tune out, get high, get lost. Sorry, but I don't smoke dope.

Returning to prognostication of possible future events, how do we deal with this trend? I believe in solving the root cause of problems. We all would like to live in a peaceful world. But when a person or a culture becomes violent, the threat must be met with deadly force. I support second amendment rights. But the right to bear arms also brings responsibility. And that responsibility can be instilled by education, community, family, faith, and communication. These values must be cultivated, and not alienated as a right-wing conspiracy or a political football.

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