April 19, 2007

Someone who gets other people killed

Filed under: The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 1:52 am

I have a serious question. When did it become okay to criticize college students, or indeed any innocent bystanders, for failing to prevent or halt a horiffic school shooting? Is this the internet’s fault, or talk radio’s? Honestly, I feel like something has seriously changed since 1999, when Columbine got people blaming the parents, the guns, bullies, Doom, and Marilyn Manson … but not, as I recall, the actual students who had to run and hide for their lives. If I’m right, and this is new, we are worse people since then.

I agree that it is appropriate, after a school shooting, to ask whether the school administration and security did enough to predict and prevent it, though we should keep in mind that hindsight is 20/20. I agree that it’s fair to suggest that a culture of harassment and bullying makes it more likely that violence, including fatal or mass violence, will occur, though obviously there isn’t a one-to-one ratio. Diciest of all, I can agree that it becomes fair game to at least wonder whether the parents and home life contributed to a shooter’s mental problems, though I’m certainly not going to invite any bad parenting karma by bragging that no child of mine could ever, ever, ever do such a thing. But to say, as the National Review’s John Derbyshire does, that Virginia Tech students were deficient in not rushing a deranged shooter in an attempt to disarm him … well, there’s no “though” there. That’s just fucked up.

As NRO’s designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn’t anyone rush the guy? It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness’ sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren’t very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can’t hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren’t bad.

Yes, yes, I know it’s easy to say these things: but didn’t the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It’s true—none of us knows what he’d do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I’d at least take a run at the guy.

If I try to write about this thoroughly (“count shots”? Even the goddamn Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook says that’s nonsense) I’m going to get sick again, so let’s cut to the most important thing here, one that took me a few reads to pick up: the way Derbyshire redefines the extremes of the situation as the norm. Normal people, when they imagine finding themselves on campus with a maniac who is shooting people at random, would unanimously define that as an absolutely critical scenario, and would define the minimum (and probably only) condition of “success” as simple survival. In order for Derbyshire’s pornographic fantasy to make any kind of sense, though, he has to define the scenario as far removed from critical (he only has “two handguns, for goodness’ sake,” and he’s killed less than three dozen people) and define basic success as much more than survival (“I’d at least take a run at the guy”—at least, meaning, “that’s if I couldn’t take him on with a samurai sword”). Furthermore, make no mistake—Derbyshire is directly blaming the victims, as when he says how much braver he would be “if I thought I was going to die anyway.” In other words, Derbyshire is normalizing the concept of a murderous rampage, and is defining a code of honor for those being killed for no reason.

So okay, that’s the National Review, they’re crazy over there, and the right wing in general seems anxious to assert how well they could martyr themselves to prove a point (as with the British sailors captured by Iran, or the captured journalists who disgrace themselves by saving their own lives—post satirical, news real). Then I see this letter to the New York Times, showing how cruel compassion can be:

To the Editor:

Re “Black Day in the Blue Ridge,” by Lucinda Roy (Op-Ed, April 17):

Struck by unimaginable grief, an otherwise unsentimental man says, “We’ll need to act like a family.” Too bad no one thought of that before.

Cho Seung-Hui was the invisible student. It was clear that he was deeply troubled. But instead of reaching out, those closest to him labeled him strange. Instead of intervening, they dismissed and ignored him.

The shooting spree may have been unthinkable, but the suicide was foreseeable. If it had been solitary and silent, would anyone have cared, or even noticed?

To prevent future massacres, we don’t need metal detectors, armed guards or reflexive campus lockdowns. We need more compassion and more humanity. We need to act more like a family.

Jeff Hersh
Austin, Tex., April 17, 2007

Oh, brother. Listen, I don’t know what ABC Family specials you’ve been watching, but the difference between murderously troubled and relatively stable is not an invitation to a birthday party. “Those closest to him,” as defined by this writer, apparently means those who shared a dorm or a class with him by pure chance, and in fact those people acted just as they should have: they went on the record when he wrote troubling material, the teacher told the appropriate authorities and tried to persuade him to go into counseling, and they otherwise stayed out of his way. With no knowledge of the nature of his problems, and no overtures from him whatsoever, no more should be expected or even advised. The idea that anyone, let alone a college student with no psychological training, has a duty to get closer to a loner who makes those around him uncomfortable; the idea that this was a question of deficient “compassion” and “humanity” (my god!), is the most inappropriate sanctimony I’ve seen since Jerry Falwell blamed gays and atheists for 9/11.

When a tragedy strikes, many people become convinced that it could have been, not just predicted, but easily prevented. This is understandable, and probably preferable to the opposite extreme (“no one could have seen this coming, and we need learn no lessons from it”). People want to assign blame, which is nothing new; what is new is the sense that every nearby citizen must consider themselves conscripted, at all times, to prevent random violence, and that it is fair game to blame them after the fact, even if they or their friends were killed. This is a pathology brought on in part, I have to think, by 9/11 and the story of Flight 93, and more generally by the permanent state of siege that we have been told we are under. The letter writer above says that we need more compassion, but what he betrays is a sense of alienation and paranoia, a belief in a world where some of our fellow citizens kill us while the others selfishly let it happen.

• • •

In Gavin DeBecker’s book on predicting violence, The Gift of Fear, he describes a psychological process often undergone by battered women:

The relationship between violence and death is no longer apparent to them. One woman who’d been at a shelter and then returned to her abuser gives us a good example: She called the shelter late one night to ask if she could come back. As always, the first question the counselor asked was “Are you in danger now?” The woman said no. Later in the call the woman added, almost as an aside, that her husband was outside the room with a gun. Hadn’t she just a moment earlier said she wasn’t in danger? To her, if he was in the same room with the gun or the gun was being held to her head, then she would be in danger. (177)

Without in any way trying to lay claim to the specific victimization and trauma De Becker is describing, this is very close to what I think of when I hear people say that our society is self-destructing. We have passed the point where school shootings are thinkable; we are now able, two days after the massacre, to blame the dead for being cowardly and selfish, and to talk matter-of-factly of what we hope to do when we’re caught in the crossfire, without any realization of how insane and monstrous that sounds.


April 5, 2007

Yeah, I really do think

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Music — tomemos @ 11:16 am

WordPress lets you check your visitor stats, which I didn’t know until recently. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about it until recently, because it’s exactly the kind of online information I could get addicted to. Sure enough, as soon as I heard, I started checking it every few days, then every day, and for a while there I was checking it whenever I sat down to the computer. My interest flagged, though, when it became clear that there was very little variation; I haven’t done anything to attract a lot of attention, so every day, for the most part, I got the same thirty- to forty-person combination of dedicated readers and misguided Google searchers.

Then, on Monday, I noticed something odd: all my stats were as usual, except that some 28 people reached my blog with the following search term: alanis my humps. Now, I do have an entry that matches that search – the one about “My Humps,” which also mentions Alanis Morissette – but it didn’t make sense that anyone would be making a web search like that, let alone 28 people. “Some sort of bot thing,” I mused.

Then, that evening, Lore posted an entry about his favorite “sensitive, acoustic covers of non-sensitive, non-acoustic songs,” such as Tori Amos covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit”… or Alanis, essentially as a joke, covering “My Humps.” “Aha,” I thought, “that’s why people were making that odd web search – because they wanted to find this video! Well, anyway, I’m sleepy. Think I’ll go to bed now.”

Then, the next day, I checked my blog stats and learned that my blog had blown up. What follows is a compilation of some of my blog stats over the last few days, but it’s more than that. It’s also a precise, even elegant, numerical depiction of the precipitous rise and breathtaking fall of an internet fad over three days, a “curve” that doesn’t resemble a bell so much as the Murderhorn. (Note: all statistics for 4/5/07 are as of 7:00 p.m. GMT.)

Visitors to the blog using web searches for “alanis my humps” or words to that effect:

4/1/07: 0

4/2/07: 28

4/3/07: 208

4/4/07: 17

4/5/07: 0

Visitors to Tomemos, by day (previous high, 69):

4/1/07: 28

4/2/07: 113

4/3/07: 330

4/4/07: 74

4/5/07: 35

Visitors to the post in question, by day (previous high: 7):

4/1/07: 1

4/2/07: 49

4/3/07: 261

4/4/07: 36

4/5/07: 1

Total views of the My Humps post since 8/31/07: 489

Views of the My Humps post from 4/2/07 to 4/4/07: 346 (70.8% of the total)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revel in my brief rush of visitors, even though almost all of them probably tossed the blog aside impatiently when they realized it wasn’t what they wanted; for a while there it was kind of incredulously thrilling just to click “blog stats” and watch those numbers rise.  However, there are two parts of this that are a little sad – maybe even a little ironic, though I’ve been paranoid about misusing the word “ironic” ever since Morissette’s song on that subject (isn’t that ironic? … isn’t it?). The first is that I misspelled the title of that entry. It comes from a George Saunders piece in the New Yorker where he makes fun of, among other things, the lyrics to “My Humps.” However, he writes “Hump my dump, you lumpy slumpy dump” whereas I wrote, God knows why, “slumby.” I meant to change it, but obviously that’s a lie. So my pride at this undeserved popularity was mingled with embarrassment that it was centered on an entry where I had used an incorrect piece of gibberish, rather than the right one.

The second is that, to be honest, I don’t really like the video whose coattails I rode for a couple days. I initially assumed it was posted by an Alanis imitator, because the voice really doesn’t sound very good (let’s take the “and you thought it was an imitator?” jokes as read), and it’s too slow and weird to be very funny. You get the joke after about 20 seconds, and honestly, “lovely lady lumps” sounds even more nauseating when sung slowly and breathily. Nonetheless, without Alanis (and, I suppose, Fergie et al.) I would not have breathed the rarefied air of double-digit visitors. So, as a way of saying thank you, here it is: my first, and possibly last, embedded YouTube video.

April 1, 2007

Living in a manbot’s manputer’s world

Filed under: Film and Video — tomemos @ 10:52 pm

Two sources of bemusement encountered during a recent trip to Iowa:

1. A Martini is a cocktail made with gin or vodka and, optionally, dry vermouth. The drink is made more or less dry by adjusting the proportion of vermouth to gin or vodka; Winston Churchill supposedly said that it was sufficient to pass the vermouth cork over the glass. I will pretend, for the moment, to be a forward-thinking guy and allow that the category has expanded to include a glass of vodka or gin and a substitute for vermouth (for instance, sake). But I would still not include drinks like the Cosmopolitan and the Lemon Drop, no matter the shape of the glass they’re served in; these are perfectly fine cocktails, but they aren’t martinis, any more than a Jack and Coke is a Manhattan or a Tequila Sunrise is a Margarita.

In an Iowa City bar and grill, the “Martini Menu” contained 14 drinks. Of these:

  • 3 were made with regular vodka.
  • 6 were made with flavored vodka.
  • 5 were made with flavored rum.
  • None were made with gin.
  • None were made with vermouth.

2. Julie and I have started watching the first season of Lost on DVD. It’s a fun show so far, one that features an entertaining premise, considerable suspense, and satisfying, well-executed surprises. It also features characters broad enough to land a plane on.

I know there are plenty of twists coming, and since I’m writing this from inside a DVD time capsule some of what I write here may have been made obsolete before I even turned on the computer; nevertheless, I’ll take that risk and congratulate the show’s writers for putting the following people on one plane:

  • a Mancunian rock star who’s also a drug addict,
  • a young, blonde, Southern Californian woman who’s shallow and self-absorbed,
  • an Iraqi who was previously a torturer in the Republican Guard, and
  • an Asian woman who comes from a mysterious gangster family, and also knows the secrets of herbal medicine. And her husband is a cook! Ooh, maybe one of them knows martial arts, too!

Create a free website or blog at