Friday, July 20, 2012

Responding to Aurora: Doing It Wrong and Doing It Right

By the time you read this, Gentle Reader, we may know something of the demographic profile, and/or the motives of James Holmes, the suspect (a.k.a. he did it) in last night’s shooting at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora, Colorado. As I write this, however, it would be claiming more knowledge than we have to say that details are sketchy.

It appears that Holmes (left) was in the process of dropping out of the medical school at the University of Colorado. He was described in the by now all-too-familiar “quiet and easy-going” terms that tend to be trotted out post facto in these cases. He was apparently reclusive, and his mother is on record saying she’s not surprised by his actions: “You have the right person,” she says. He had access to weapons and protective devices and knew how to use them; apparently he was also able to rig a sophisticated booby trap in his apartment. Oh, and he painted his hair red out of some sort of metaphysical kinship with the Joker. That’s it.

That is the sum total of what we—meaning the public—know as I write this (I keep checking back with news sites in case there might be more). Authorities may have acquired more insights by now, but they haven’t yet released any additional information, and it is still far too soon to be upset by that. There were also unconfirmed reports—that one of Holmes’s weapons was an assault rifle, for example. (EDIT: This is now confirmed, by the way.) So I am going to adopt a novel approach, apparently unknown to politicians, pundits and journalists alike: I’m not going to speculate. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?

One of the first Facebook posts I saw on this story was introduced by the page-owner who posted it by linking Holmes to the militia movement. Thankfully (I guess), that post has since been taken down—and, alas, I’ve forgotten which site it was or I’d happily embarrass them here. There is still a full-throated allegation (not a whiff of corroboration that I can find) that Holmes is linked to the Black Bloc and, possibly (?) by extension (?) to the Occupy movement.

More disturbingly, because from someone regarded as a journalist, there was this utterly irresponsible speculation by ABC’s Brian Ross:
There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.
What!?! You’re going on national television with this?

Four years ago, I was returning from a Study Abroad trip to Dublin and London with 14 students in tow. I was stopped by Homeland Security and trotted off to a room in the airport that looked like a cross between a classroom and a hospital waiting room. After a delay of 20 minutes or so, during which time I was told to “stand over there” and subsequently to sit down, and during which time I was asked nary a question, I was released. When I asked if this was now going to become a common occurrence, I was told, “I don’t know. You have a common name.” OK—I’ll leave off the exegesis on how my first and last name might be common, even in combination, but a not terribly common middle name and a suffix (I’m a “III”), not to mention a passport number, ought to narrow the field a little. Fact is, yes, there are a lot of folks out there with a name a whole lot like mine: there are six listed in the phone book in my city of 30,000 or so.

Same goes for James Holmes. If you’re even going to mention this bit of information without something substantive to suggest this is the Jim Holmes you’re talking about, you’re not a journalist; you’re a gossip. But even Ross’s glaring lapse of judgment could have been attributed in part to “heat of the moment”; not so Alan Colmes, who posted the “story” on his website under the headline “ABC News Links Colorado Shooter To Tea Party.” No. No, they didn’t. Ross may have crossed the line, but he didn’t pretend to have found a link, just a possible one. Moreover, the story is still up on, without correction, over five hours after ABC apologized for the bad reporting.

I’m going to leave aside the all-too-predictable back-and-forth that these horrific events always engender about gun control: “See? This is what happens when it becomes too easy to get guns and tear gas and… and… and…” “No, this is what happens when no one in the audience had a gun to defend themselves with.” “Yeah, firing at a shadowy figure in a crowd of panicking people in a dark, smoked-filled room: that’s safe.” And on and on.

Nor do I want to talk except apophasistically about the notorious Erick Erickson tweet that “I bet it wasn’t the Lutherans” who perpetrated the killings in Norway last year. You see, ol’ Erick would have lost that bet… sort of.

Rather, I turn to the equally inevitable “they asked for it” drivel that spews from fundamentalist preachers and idiot Congressmen. The shooter wasn’t some messed-up guy with (probably) indiscernible motives… no, this heartbreaking turn of events was caused by the fact that “we have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundations of this country.” Except for the whole Founding-Fathers-not-being-all-that-religious thing, this is a good argument. Actually, no, strike that. This country could have been created by religious zealots, and this kind of argumentation would still be stupid.

The quotation above—yeah, that’s Curmie’s very own Congresscritter, the ever-embarrassing Louis Gohmert. Representative Gohmert “kind of [likes] his [i.e., God’s] protective hand being present.” This is a reasonable enough statement of religious faith, but very strange under the circumstances, don’t you think? I suspect there are a few families in Colorado right now wondering about what happened to God’s protection.

But let’s not veer off into theological discussions. What matters here is that we find out happened before we fully articulate our response. Authorities seem to have ruled out Islamic terrorism. Good. But that leaves us with 50 million minus 1 possible motives. Too much of what passes for political thought today consists of forming a conclusion and then fashioning a “truthy” scaffolding to try to support it. It really does work better to start with the facts.

Conversely, I am more than a little re-assured that both contenders for the Presidency handled this situation well. Policy differences matter, but only if the less formal but no less important ceremonial functions are also performed. In situations like this, the President is indeed the Mourner in Chief, and Mr. Obama nailed it. Here’s most of his remarks:
We’re still gathering all the facts about what happened in Aurora, but what we do know is that the police have one suspect in custody. And the federal government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring whoever is responsible for this heinous crime to justice. (Applause.) And we will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all of our people.

We're going to stand by our neighbors in Colorado during this extraordinarily difficult time. And I had a chance to speak with the Mayor of Aurora as well as the Governor of Colorado to express, not just on behalf of Michelle and myself, but the entire American family, how heartbroken we are.

Now, even as we learn how this happened and who’s responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.

And if there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another. (Applause.)

It's what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That’s what matters. At the end of the day, what we’ll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That’s why we’re here.

I’m sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I’m sure you will do the same with your children. But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation.

So, again, I am so grateful that all of you are here. I am so moved by your support. But there are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.

So what I’d ask everybody to do, I’d like us to pause in a moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities every single day. So if everybody can just take a moment.

(Moment of silence.)

Thank you, everybody. I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today. May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come.
Governor Romney did well, too. I couldn’t find a complete transcript of his remarks, but here’s the video; some highlights follow:
Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy. Ann and I join the President and First Lady, and all Americans, in offering our deepest condolences for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil, in Colorado….

Today we feel not only a sense of grief but perhaps also of helplessness. But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-laden….

Grieving and worried families in Aurora are surrounded by love today, and not just by those that are with them and holding them in their arms. They can also know they’re being lifted up in prayer by people in every part of our great nation. Now and in the hard days to come, may every one of them feel the sympathy of our whole nation and the comfort of a living God.

There will be justice for those responsible, but that’s another matter for another day. Today is a moment to grieve and to remember, to reach out and to help, to appreciate our blessings in life.

Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend. We’ll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day and more time wondering about how to help those who are in need of compassion most. The answer is, that we can come together; we will show our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love.
Well done, sir.

Don’t worry, Gentle Reader, Curmie isn’t going to go all soft and fuzzy on you. But one of the functions of the Presidency is to be an appropriate voice of calm reassurance in times of sorrow, to represent us all in our cumulative grief. Both men passed with flying colors today. No “bring it” belligerence; no partisan jabs about gun control or whatever; no assumption of “facts” we don’t really know. I’ll never vote for one of them, and I’ll hold my nose voting for the other, but today they both did us proud.

The fact is, Gentle Reader, this guy Holmes doesn’t represent me even if we’d vote for the same person or worship at the same church. If he turns out to be an atheist, that doesn’t mean that atheists are the problem, any more (or less) than Baptists are the problem if that’s what he is. His politics can be from the left, right, or center, and he doesn’t represent any of the good people some of whose views he shares. Even if he had help, he’s a lone wolf. Our society lives on, saddened but intrepid.

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