Monthly Archives: April 2007

Lies, Damn Lies, and Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs testified before Congress last month about the supposed perils of free trade:

Since the beginning of this new century, the United States has lost more than three million manufacturing jobs. Three million more jobs have been lost to cheap overseas labor markets…

That’s 6 million jobs. Donald Luskin points out that there are only 6.7 million unemployed people in the United States right now. So either free trade is the sole cause of nearly all unemployment, or else Lou Dobbs doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

If you don’t feel like reading Luskin’s article I’ll save you from the suspense: Lou Dobbs doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

More Charges for Abbate

Chicago police officer Anthony Abbate is in more trouble:

Chicago Police Officer Anthony Abbate, accused of beating a female bartender in an attack caught on videotape, was charged in an indictment Friday with 14 new felonies…

My first thought when I about the 14 new charges was that this was just the department piling on to prove they’re tough on bad cops. How do you get 14 felonies from one beating? It sounded excessive.

But then it started to make sense:

According to the indictment, a woman acting as an intermediary for Abbate told a man, whom Obrycka’s attorney Terry Ekl identified as the bar manager, that Abbate or other police officers would plant illegal drugs on bar employees or customers and arrest them if the videotape of the beating was used against him.

Ekl said Friday that the bar manager made an audiotape of that conversation with the woman, whom he said was a bar employee and friend of Abbate. The day after the beating, Ekl said, Abbate told the bar employee that he already had run the license plates of the bar manager and Obrycka through police databases, and added that if they turned the tape over to authorities, police might find drugs in their cars or in the bar, or Abbate would harass patrons.

Abbate was charged with seven counts of official misconduct, one count of communicating with a witness, three counts of intimidation and three counts of conspiracy.

This is what I was talking about in my previous post. Beating up the bartender was a crime, but it had nothing to do with Abbate being a cop. He was just another drunken jerk. It was just a stupid crime, abetted by alcohol. It’s the sort of thing where you think maybe he can clean up his act.

Intimidating witnesses is a whole different level of criminality. It’s intentional, premeditated, and cold-hearted. When it involves threatening to falsely arrest innocent people on drug charges, it’s also an abuse of police powers. When several officers are involved, it’s a criminal conspiracy within the police department.

Maybe 15 felony counts is about right.

(Hat tip: gideon)

Will the VT Massacre Spawn Another War on Privacy?

A few days ago Kip Esquire posted a terrific article about the likely responses to the Virginia Tech massacre from our politicians, and the dangers we face from that.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t? Sounds like job for — politicians!

Seriously, think back to September 11. The first knee-jerk reactions were “Never again!” and “We must do everything possible to prevent this!” You don’t want another 9/11, do you?

The result was the Patriot Actand much more — which eventually morphed into the current “Terror v. Civil Liberties” morass we now find ourselves in. To the Bush Administration and its apologists, no cost to privacy is too high, no restriction on liberty too extreme. You don’t want another 9/11, do you?

Meanwhile, it is almost certain that, before long, calls of “Never again!” and “We must do everything possible to prevent this!” will bellow from the halls of Congress. You don’t want another Blacksburg, do you?

Read the whole thing.

Blaming the Victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre

The Virginia Tech massacre has brought out the usual bunch of wackos looking to blame it on their favorite social ill, from video games to the teaching of evolution to Teh Gay. (Links via Kip) I haven’t read of anybody blaming the Jews yet, but you know that’s coming.

In my mind, the most reprehensible response is from those who are calling Virginia Tech students cowards. John Derbyshire seems to have started it:

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…And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren’t bad.

Where to start?

  • In order to count the shots, you have to know how many shots the gun holds—could be six, could be sixteen.
  • If the shooter has enough spare magazines, he can reload the gun before he’s used all the ammo in it. In other words, instead of being forced to reload when the gun runs out, he can reload when it’s safe to do so, when no one can jump him.
  • Handguns are accurate enough at close range for effective personal combat, which is why police officers have handguns.
  • A .22 pistol may not do much damage, but the killer also had a 9mm handgun, and that will do plenty of damage.
  • Even if the first shot doesn’t kill you, there’s a good chance it will slow you down enough for a killing shot.
  • Several victims were shot in the head, meaning either that the shooter was accurate or that he shot people in the head after a wounding shot.

Derbyshire continues:

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.

Me too.

But were they “going to die anyway”? For most of the hundreds of people in Norris Hall that morning, the answer was no. They were spread out over 70,000 feet of floor space, and the shooter didn’t have nearly enough time to get to all of them. Running, hiding, and generally staying away from the shooting were all good tactics.

The comparison to Flight 93 is instructive, because there are many differences between that situation and the shooting at Virginia Tech:

  • The bad guys on Flight 93 did not have guns.
  • The passengers on Flight 93 had time to think about their situation, discuss tactics, make preparations, and attack only when they were ready. People at Virginia Tech didn’t know anything was wrong until they were shot at, and it was all over in a few minutes.
  • As soon as they knew what the terrorists were planning to do, the people on Flight 93 realized that personal escape was not an option. They had to fight together. The students and staff of Virginia Tech did not.

In general, people are more likely to behave heroically if they think it will make a big difference, which depends on several factors:

  • How well they understand what’s happening.
  • How clear it is what needs to be done.
  • The chances that it will work.
  • The need for personal action.

All these things take time to figure out, especially the first two. Not coincidentally, the first two things are also the focus of much of the training for people expected to respond to emergencies.

Suppose you’re on a subway platform and there’s a small child who has fallen onto the tracks. It’s pretty easy to understand the situation: The small child can’t climb out, there’s deadly voltage running real close, and if a train comes the child will be killed. But it’s not hard to imagine that a visitor from a country too poor to have subways (or American action movies) might not grasp the danger.

It’s a little less obvious what to do or if it will work. Do you lean over the edge and try to get the child to come over and grab your hand? Or do you jump down there with the child? If so, how do you avoid the high voltage? Can you climb back out, or do you need to run down the track to a better location? Do you have time for your plan? The less you know about subways, the longer it will take you to figure these things out.

The last factor on the list is the most insidious. If it’s just you and the child, you’ll almost certainly make a rescue attempt if you can figure out what to do before it’s too late. If there are a hundred other people on the subway platform, there’s a very good chance that you’ll all stand around wondering “isn’t anybody going to do something?”

At a previous employer, someone robbed the cashier’s office at gunpoint. After it was over, everyone waited for the police to get there…for 45 minutes…until they realized that everyone thought someone else had called the police. It’s a good thing they weren’t waiting for paramedics. (For this reason, I always call 911, even if there are twenty other people at the scene.)

Many people have criticized John Derbyshire for daring to question the courage of the victims of the massacre, and they have a good point, but he also deserves criticism for his poor understanding of how people make decisions in a crisis. If the people at Virginia Tech didn’t behave heroically, it’s because they were confused, didn’t have a plan, and expected someone else to have a better plan.

Nathanael Blake took it one step further:

College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut. Meanwhile, an old man hurled his body at the shooter to save others.

Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that.

First of all, maybe some of those people died trying to rush the shooter. We don’t know yet and may never know, but some stories are starting to come out.

Second, maybe the shooter was smart enough to avoid getting rushed. He had a lot more time to plan his attack than anyone had to plan a response.

Third, “holding doors shut” is pretty dangerous when there’s a killer on the other side who can shoot through the door. It’s a lot more dangerous than hiding behind classroom furniture.

Fourth, holding classroom doors closed may not be as bold and daring as rushing the killer, but in point of fact it worked.

Fifth, that “old man” was Dr. Liviu Librescu, and he in fact died while holding the door shut to allow students to escape through the windows.

Which theory sounds better to you? That there’s a problem with all the men in our culture? Or that the victims were overwhelmed by the speed and violence of the attack, and pundits like Derbyshire and Blake are clueless victim-blaming jackasses?

Me, I like the sound of that second theory.

Raving Madmen

Ron Coleman is criticizing NBC‘s decision to air parts of Cho Seung-Hui’s video. Cho is the guy who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, and it appears that between the first shooting incident and the second he sent a package to NBC News in New York. That package contained an “often incoherent 23-page written statement, 28 video clips and 43 photos.” In other words, it was the killer’s media kit.

Coleman quotes from an ABC News interview with forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner:

“If anybody cares about the victims in Blacksburg and if anybody cares about their children, stop showing this video now. Take it off the Internet. Let it be relegated to YouTube,” Welner said. “This is a social catastrophe. Showing the video is a social catastrophe.”

To which Coleman adds:

The blood of the victims of the “next one” is on the hands of everyone in the decision-making chain at NBC for this utterly inexcusable decision. But this is merely Son of Frankenstein, for it was the 1995 publication by the New York Times and Washington Post of the Unabomber’s nutty, blood-soaked “manifesto” that established the recent precedent of media outlets providing the most highly-sought-after reward in today’s world — fame, and a “platform” for grievances — to killers.

I’m pretty sure Coleman is wrong about the decision to publish the Unabomber Manifesto. The papers probably would have published a few juicy excerpts, simply because it was newsworthy, but they only published the entire manifesto because the FBI asked them to.

The thinking was that someone might recognize certain ideas or turns of phrase, which would lead directly to the Unabomber’s identity. And that’s exactly what happened. David Kaczynski recognized it as the writing of his brother Ted and told the FBI where to find him.

Nobody accused the FBI or the media of contributing to the Unabomber’s fame when they showed that famous sketch of him and asked people to identify him. When they published his manifesto, they were just doing the same thing with a 35,000-word writing sample.

The same logic would apply to Cho’s video if he was still at large and still unidentified. Airing the video would greatly help in identifying and ultimately capturing him. Unfortunately for NBC, Cho is dead. Airing his video isn’t going to help. It’s pure sensationalism.

And according to Welner, it may have a cost:

“I promise you the disaffected will watch him the way they watched ‘Natural Born Killers.’ I know. I examine these people,” he said. “I’ve examined mass shooters who have told me they’ve watched it 20 times. You cannot saturate the American public with this kind of message.”

Welner maintained, however, that he was not blaming the media for airing the footage.

“It’s not an issue of blame. It’s an appeal. Please stop now. That’s all,” he said. “If you can take [talk show host Don] Imus off the air, you can certainly keep [Cho] from having his own morning show.”

I generally distrust anyone who doesn’t want the press to cover a story, but Welner is making a pretty good point. There is evidence that these kinds of mass murderers are interested in the stories of other mass murderers, and that they may even use these stories to encourage themselves to go through with it. I have no doubt that Cho’s video will be viewed by others who will use it as inspiration for their own crimes.

(In fact, in the two days it took me to find the time to write this, there’s already been a story about another shooting, this time at NASA.)

Nevertheless, I think Coleman makes too much of NBC‘s decision to air the video. First of all, even if NBC had turned the video over to the FBI without making a copy, it would have gotten out one way or another, probably through a Freedom of Information Act request, and would be all over the Internet anyway. NBC just decided to go first.

Second, people planning mass murder will seek out materials that excite them, and in our media-rich culture they can always find something that turns them on: movies, television shows, video games, novels, religious texts, rock lyrics.

Third, if they can’t find stuff that excites them, they just make stuff up. Some of these killers have survived their killing sprees and been interviewed by forensic psychologists. They often mis-remember story details or song lyrics in ways that reinforce their own desires.

Still, I’m not planning to watch the video.

“[Cho] needs to create and produce his own picture in order to give himself a sense of power. Nobody saw him that way. He didn’t see himself that way and that’s why he set this up and he did this to achieve immortality. We have to stop giving him that and we can do it now.”

“There’s nothing to learn from this except giving it validation. If this rambling showed up in an emergency room, my colleagues and I would listen carefully and, when we reflected that it was delusional, would go see the next patient and start the medication,” he said. “This makes it sound like he was tormented. He wasn’t.”

Most of us have nothing to learn from watching Cho’s video. I haven’t seen it, and I have no interest in seeing it, because whatever Cho has to say is not worth listening to. That’s also why I’ve never watched interviews of Charles Manson or read the Unabomber Manifesto: The ravings of a madman are useful only to people who study madmen.

Victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre

The murder of 32 people at Virginia Tech yesterday has reignited the gun control debate. I don’t feel like writing about it now, so I’ll just say one thing that keeps going through my mind:

I don’t know anything about the killer, but I do know something about every one of his victims. I know it because it’s been true of the victims of every mass shooting we’ve had in this country.

They were unarmed.

Update: Law Professor Glenn Reynolds echos my feelings in a New York Daily News editorial:

On Monday, as the news of the Virginia Tech shootings was unfolding, I went into my advanced constitutional law seminar to find one of my students upset. My student, Tara Wyllie, has a permit to carry a gun in Tennessee, but she isn’t allowed to have a weapon on campus. That left her feeling unsafe. “Why couldn’t we meet off campus today?” she asked.

Virginia Tech graduate student Bradford Wiles also has a permit to carry a gun, in Virginia. But on the day of the shootings, he would have been unarmed for the same reason: Like the University of Tennessee, where I teach, Virginia Tech bans guns on campus.

In The Roanoke Times last year – after another campus incident, when a dangerous escaped inmate was roaming the campus – Wiles wrote that, when his class was evacuated, “Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself.”

Wiles reported that when he told a professor how he felt, the professor responded that she would have felt safer if he had had a gun, too.

What’s more, she would have been safer. That’s how I feel about my student (one of a few I know who have gun carry permits), as well. She’s a responsible adult; I trust her not to use her gun improperly, and if something bad happened, I’d want her to be armed because I trust her to respond appropriately, making the rest of us safer.

in Guns