Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Too easy for a hint

I don't know why I bother to point this out, but it seems a sort of duty. Sure enough, last night the network news broadcasts did it again: all 22 minutes, or whatever it is they have left over after commercials, dedicated to the VT massacre.

Okay, sure, it's a dramatic event and it hits close to home for a small percentage of Americans, at least. But was it the only important thing that's happened in the past two days, or even among the most important? Obviously not. It goes without saying that comparable events happen in Iraq two or three times every day, and then there's some placed called, what was that again? Darfur I think it was. Speaking of Iraq, today they had at least a half dozen pretty impressive massacres. And, the WHO reminds us that it's no fun to be a kid in Iraq right now, because in addition to the unpleasant probability of getting blown up or shot, you have a more than 20% chance of starving, and a 70% chance that you're drinking contaminated water, which means you have chronic diarrhea. Then there's that uncomfortable fact, God forbid the news readers should remind us of it, that the United States is currently being run by a criminal conspiracy.

But, of course, the problem with all that is that it's meaningful. There are important implications for us as citizens. We need to think about these problems, and what ought to be done about them, and how we got into such a fix.

In contrast, although it was very disappointing to the wingnuts, Cho Seung-Hui turns out not to be a Muslim, or an anarchist. He didn't kill people because of the theory of evolution, or because they didn't post the Ten Commandments in his classroom, or because his mother put him in day care, or because of violent rap lyrics or video games or the homosexual agenda. He did it because, to use the technical term, he was fucking nuts. He might have had a brain tumor, or a brain injury, or been psychotic, or who knows what. But there isn't any moral or political lesson here at all. This was essentially a natural disaster. It's appropriate for the police and experts to study the case and learn what they can, that might help prevent future incidents, but there is nothing to be gained by instant data-free pontificating.

In 2005 there were 16,692 homicides in the United States. That means that if April 16 was an average day, there were about 46 murders in the U.S. in addition to Cho's 32. And there were 46 the next day, and the next, and the day before, and there will be tomorrow as well. The vast majority of these, probably all of them, unlike the VT shootings, were not the random acts of lunatics, but rather were related to domestic violence, robbery, organized crime, street gang feuds, and other matters for which there are indeed potential public policy and socio-cultural responses that we ought to be discussing.

But can we expect an even minimally reflective, informative, or proportionate response to reality from our corporate TV news industry? Of course not. Instead we had to endure the sight of Brian Williams staring adoringly into the Dear Leader's eyes last night and slobbering all over him as the mystical healer of the nation. I may vomit.

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