The shooting deaths of 32 faculty and students at Virginia Tech is an [insert your adjective here] case of societal chickens coming home to roost. This week, it is imposible to view any news not related to his incident. Poor Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — their luscious feeding trough of a la Imus does in fact have a bottom. Al Qaeda and Hamas are grinding their teeth in impotency that their viewer share (or more importantly media share) is gone. (I’m sorry — what was the Iraq body count Monday?)

I am angry. I watched Fox News (and CNN for that matter) and hear about the 2 1/2 hour gap. This is as infuriating as the question proposed in Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore as to why Bush did nothing for 12 WHOLE MINUTES after hearing about the first plane into the trade towers. Why oh why (excessive handwringing) did the administration wait 2 1/2 hours and not shut down the campus?

Each network lines up its chartered experts: psychological profilers, ex-FBI experts, presidents of security consulting firms, a student from Columbine (actually he was pretty cool with his comment about inane media drivel and shallow continuing analysis, quickly cut to commercial). The ex-FBI agent commented on the statistical probability of the event and the difficulty in securing an open campus — not to the liking of the anchor who was flogging his agenda of the 2 1/2 hour gap and how or why could and did this happen (more verbal excessive handwringing).


At the University of Illinois, in a similar situation, the only thing limiting the body count would be the amount of ammunition the gunman could carry. It wouldn’t be lack of targets. With a little machining, a silencer on any weapon would quadruple the body count. The university has multiple emergency response plans — this isn’t in any of them. Each of the plans has a line of comunication established which includes various police and emergency response agencies, but they have to be activated. That takes a decision. Decisions at the University of Illinois tend to be consensus affairs, and I doubt that Virginia Tech is any different. But let’s be generous and assume that some authoritative hierachical type calls down the troops. CNN anchors suggested that it was criminal not to inform all the students. Further, let’s overlook the difficulty of contacting all these thousands of students and suppose that the University has a magical means of doing so instantly and flawlessly. Virginia Tech has 26,000 students. The University of Illinois has about 10,000 more.

Now that we have a magical means of communications, tell them what? — to go back to their dorms? Where the original two were shot? How about a collection point — like the Assembly Hall. Hmmm more targets in a restricted space. Tell them to stay in the classroom — Hmm that didn’t work out too well. And assuming that you got them all together what about toilet facilities, congested cellular channels (yes parents would be calling), food. It would make the SuperDome in New Orleans after Katerina look positively inviting. So you can’t “shut down the college” because there is no place for the students to go. And lockdown to classrooms isn’t much better. The reasonable action, which Virginia Tech took, was to try and ascertain the facts of the first shooting and locate and detain the perp. Investigations don’t resolve themselves in 50 minutes as in CSI (even with commercials). So the bottom line is “we’re screwed”; much the same as when the tornado tears the house apart around you. There is nothing to do to get unscrewed — no quick little Planned Parenthood abortions, no mulligans, no do-overs, no ‘saved by the bell’ last minute reprieves. No dodges around real pain and problems that the Hollywood types love to write into scripts.

How about preventative measures – courtesy Fox News. Prevent this from happening. Metal detectors probably won’t work. They don’t work at airports (except for assuring Granny that “no – guns can’t pass through”) where you have an hour before (two for international) instead of 10 minutes between classes, and there aren’t 5,000 students entering one building carrying laptops and iPods and cameras. (Those that don’t have enough piercings to set off a magnetometer in the next state). Gun control — oh wait, Virginia Tech was a “Gun-Free Zone”. And racial profiling is out (what race is goth wearing ankle length dusters with an affility for guns and the on-line Columbine role playing game (RPG) where you get to shoot your friends?) Anyway racial profiling would affect about half the campus.

No, to keep this from happening you have to address the root causes:

1. The media rehashing what little fact there is with sensationalism, attributing superlatives to the event: “the worst shooting EVER; the largest body count”. Basicially inviting any disturbed person to try and top this to get his 15 minutes of glory (infamy);

2. The treatment of students as non-persons not worthy of respect, to be recognized only for their tuition contributions to the welfare of the ruling faculty. The view of the person as consumer and of no intrinsic value save as an instrument of purchase of goods and services. The belief that everyone should be manipulated by advertising and media in such as way as to make them susceptible to all manipulation.

3. The fact that most students don’t really belong in or are cut out to be in an academic environment. Let’s face it — you can’t get a decent job without a sheepskin. It’s a checkbox on an employment application. There is no love of learning, no questioning of how or why things work, no wonder of the mechanism, except in a few students — those who belong in the system. To the others, the system is a provider of stress, and the more the mismatch, the higher the levels of stress.

4. The loss of civility in discourse. Look to our leaders as shining examples of this. A political discussion of divergent philosophies is impossible without character assassination, inuendos and rabid attacks on the person, not the ideals. Why argue logically and resolve a conflict when you can assassinate?

5. Lack of respect for the person. The same phenomemon which led Imus to make his comment about the Rutgers team. The constant barrage of Rap music and Gangsta reducing all women to “nappy headed hos”. If it’s in the national lexicon, its usage is pre-ordained.

To fix this requires all of us to step back from the abyss of our society and ask what are our essential values? What is the foundation of this society and what must we do to preserve it? Ethical relativism is the rooster, and a mean-spirited, narcissistic, alienating member of a consumer henhouse it is; and it’s laying some nasty nappy headed little eggs.

Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. (Rm 12:19)

If you haven’t heard about the recent kerfuffle with Don Imus yet, you probably would’ve made a great juror for the OJ Simpson trial. For those of you who misses the excitement, let me summarize (from here):

DON IMUS: “That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos …”

BERNARD MCGURK: “Some hardcore hos.”

DON IMUS: “That’s some nappy headed hos there, I’m going to tell you that.”

And now the half the world is up in arms, demanding Imus’ head. People could care less about the raging misogyny that came out of the mouth of Mr. McGurk, but Imus has to go. Why is that? After all, rap artists use this sort of language all the time. But the ever-so-eloquent Snoop Dogg would have us believe something different. He notes, “We’re [rap artists] talking about hos that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing (bleep), that’s trying to get a (bleep) for his money. These are two separate things.” As Snoop notes, “First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls… I will not let them (bleepers) say we in the same league as him.” Although, I’m sure that Snoop would make an exception for Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) to spew as much misogyny as he wants, even though Mr. Mathers is also white. I somehow doubt this is because Mr. Mathers is neither “old-ass” nor on MSNBC. This is what we in the chattering classes call a “double standard.”

To clarify my person position, let me state for the record: I disapprove of Mr. McGurk and Mr. Imus’ comments. Their comments were both offensive and not funny. Misogyny is never a good thing and the world would be a better place if rap artists like Snoop Dogg and Eminem paid even lip service to respecting women. If Mr. McGurk and Mr. Imus wanted to insult some public persona, you might be able to argue that their comments were humorous, but this was a college basketball team, and a Cinderella story at that. Not funny.

But this entire episode illustrates something deeper and darker, and I’m not talking about the inherent racism of either Mr. Imus or America as a whole. I’m talking about what I’ll call the Culture of Vengeance. Normally, the shrill voices of intolerance, such as Ann Coulter and her friends on the right wing blowhard circuit would have us believe that this is just another example of the plague of political correctness sweeping America. But even Ms. Coulter, in a rare moment of lucidity thinks that Mr. Imus’ comments were unwarranted and that he owes an apology to the basketball team. This is not about political correctness, and despite what Ms. Coulter feels, the demand for Mr. Imus’ head (on a pike, as a warning to the next ten generations) is not about political correctness either.

It’s about how our post-modern (post-post-modern?), post-Christian culture has become unable to forgive.

Back in the age of the Puritans, the penitentiary was a place for well, penance. It was their that you reflected on your wrongdoing and turned back to right living. Punishment was not the goal, repentance and reconciliation were. On the other hand, in the Culture of Vengeance, any sin (real or imagined) warrants the maximum sanction. Forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation are forgotten. We can’t blame the left for the origin of the Culture of Vengeance, it comes firmly from the right. The intellectual framework of three-strikes laws, mandatory sentencing, capital punishment and post-prison confinement are all rooted in a “Culture of Responsibility” taken to its extreme. You are responsible for everything and when you transgress our shibboleths you will be punished. Thanks to the intellectual framework of the right, the left has now retaliated by using the same logic to enforce their own rules. And now Mr. Imus will be paying for his sins, not just with an apology, but with the loss of his radio show. You see, conversion and contrition is insufficient (and perhaps even irrelevant). Vengeance is required. Harsh punishment must be rendered.

J. Michael Straczynski, writer of the show Babylon 5, writes that his understanding of atheism makes forgiveness impossible: “So I cannot forgive. Which makes the notion of writing a character who CAN forgive momentarily attractive… because it allows me to explore in great detail something of which I am utterly incapable.” He speaks, I think, not just of himself, but of our society. We find forgiveness fascinating on the big screen, but we find ourselves utterly incapable of it ourselves, no matter the words of history’s most important Rabbi on the subject (Matt 18:21-22).