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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Gracchus: "Insight for Sale, Goin' Cheap"

MSM Green Room

Thanks to Gracchus for this great post!

And so the circus started. The bodies at Virginia Tech were barely cold, solid facts are thin on the ground, and the media outlets were scrambling to fill their news holes with "profound" insights. The term "filling news holes" is more appropriate than usual in this case, as there's always a willing parade of whores and gigolos masquerading as experts and pundits who are happy to fill those holes. And the media outlets are about as discriminating as horny L.A. teenagers in a cheap '80s film.

Now for a sensation-hungry teenager who wants it fast and cheap and easy, the cardinal rule in the movie is:
go to Tijuana. For a sensation-hungry MSM, the equivalent rule is: pretend correlation implies causation.

Embracing that fallacy to the extreme gets you some quick pundit love at rock bottom prices. Take
Jack "Alley Wall" Thompson, who was on TV before even a physical description of the gunman was released, blaming the whole thing on videogames. Forget causation -- Jack was too busy talking to bookers that morning to even bother with establishing correlation. Truly bottom-feeder stuff, which is why he ended up on Fox (which would be the fat slob teenager in the aforementioned '80s movie).

Moving one (small) step up on the evolutionary ladder of basic logic, we have the Know-Nothing bloggers and
racists who, upon hearing the gunman described as "Asian," immediately made the natural assumption that "Asian" meant the Southeastern or even Middle Eastern variety, and thus Muslim (because, as every mouth-breather knows, all Southeast Asians are Muslims). Unlike Jack Thompson, they did take the time to establish a basis for correlation -- about a knee-jerk's worth based on a slim piece of "evidence."

How embarrassing for them to discover that the gunman was originally from South Korea, and had been a legal U.S. resident for most of his life. But never fear -- the mouth-breathing Buchanan fans are already
pretending they never made the earlier gaffe ("huh? Who me? I didn't say that") and re-framing in the best tradition of Frank Luntz and Rush Limbaugh. After all, the gunman was an immigrant ... probably a secret agent of Kim Jong-il. And what's worse, he had an interest in a white chick. So there you go, more proof that race-mixing immigrants are hell-bent on undermining this great country and contaminating our precious bodily fluids and buyin' our guns. The Know-Nothings will have no lack of reasons to indulge their hateful fantasies.

And speaking of fantasists, keep an eye out for the right-wing chickenhawk brigade. You know the type:
"they shoulda rushed 'em -- I woulda!" Now given that these are the kinds of blowhards who are also happy to let others fight their clash of civilisations for them, it's a good bet that -- had they found themselves at VA Tech the other day -- they would have found that (in the word of their idols) they had "better things to do" than fight the "evil ones." But since they weren't there, these wannabe Rambos write pieces invoking the desperate actions of Professor Librescu while denigrating the victims and survivors.

The irony, of course, is that these pundits have no clue of what makes a true hero -- mainly because these
entitled twits have never had to face a violent madman wielding a weapon once in their coddled lives.

And, oh, the weapons. You'll be hearing a lot about them, from extremists on both sides of the gun-control
debate. On the one end, you have the NRA, now fully committed to protecting their Know-Nothing base against "illegal immigrant gangs" and warty money-grubbing elders of Zion by handing every man, woman and child in America a gun. "If only everyone on campus had been armed!" they lament, as if everyone reacts heroically and cucumber-cool to an unexpected crisis. The choose to ignore what really happened the other day: the sobbing , screaming, pissed pants, and general panic reported by those chained inside that building. Only irresponsible cretins like the NRA's executives would believe that a bunch of untrained pistol-packers would have made that situation better.

Not that the "ban 'em all" gun-control crowd is any more realistic when it comes to causation. Their loud
moan: "If only this person, and everyone else, had been denied access to the guns!" Well, putting aside the fact that the pistols were purchased legally, the fact is that this deranged nutball was hell-bent on getting his sweaty hands on some slug-throwers no matter what -- part of the whole deranged nutball thing, dontchaknow? And law or no law, he would have ended up with those pistols. Canada has gun control laws -- ask residents of Montreal how well those laws have worked when disturbed individuals decided (twice) that it was people-huntin' time on campus.

So please, let's put aside the gun control laws as we make our way from correlation to causation. We all
have our opinions on the Second Amendment, and firearms licensing, and whether or not it's sporting to shred deer with automatic rifles, and the like. But one statement we can all agree on: the pistols used by this gunman, like all firearms, were tools. To be sure, pistols (especially those with extra-capacity magazines) are designed primarily for taking human life. But razor-sharp knives or Home Depot chainsaws in the hands of panicked and untrained bystanders or cold-blooded maniacs are dangerous, too -- it's just a matter the tool's efficiency. Firearms correlate very well to killing, but they aren't the cause; the NRA ignores the former, the gun control lobby ignores the latter, so feel free to ignore both and put the weapons issue aside on this one.

While we're discussing tools, you'll be hearing a lot about another one -- the bad ol' Internet. Sure, the
techno-utopians and CEOs of social network sites will be talking about the healing power of Facebook and other such nonsense. But more than that, there will be lots of hand-wringing about the Web -- and those hand-wringers consider it even more dangerous than flesh-piercing firearms. After all, the 'Net contains "dangerous" videos and music and words! It allows (gasp) amateur journalists to supplant responsible MSM outlets. It encourages extreme narcissism and exhibitionism. Bullies use it! What about the chilllldrrennnnn? It must be regulated! The agendas are clear here, and as usual have little to do with causation or even correlation. Given that the gunman was fond of downloading MP3s, no doubt the RIAA will chime in, somehow blaming the whole thing on music piracy and an attendent disrespect for the law. Don't believe me? Wait and see.

Which leads us naturally to the usual cast of Homeland Security busybodies and security theatre salesmen, who count on these criminal incidents to push their own authoritarian agendas just a little bit further. Equating correlation with causation is one of the easy steps that turns all citizens into suspicious criminals. Americans have learned the drill under Prince Bush: more metal detectors; more cameras, more national ID cards; more half-baked profiling; more rent-a-cops. And fewer civil liberties and less privacy. And let's not fool ourselves by making this about party politics: DLC Democrats are just as fond of these "permanent emergency" measures as the neoCons. Unless the triangulators are cleared out of the party like Lieberman was, the surveillance state will only continue to metastasise.

And after all of these shady characters, we finally arrive at seemingly genuine attempts to actually address cause rather than correlation. Yes, it's time for the shrinks and self-help gurus and sociologists who are ready to trot out hobbyhorses less rickety than poor Jack Thompson's. You'll be seeing a lot of them over the next week, and here are some of the theories they'll be bandying around: the gunman was clinically depressed; had ADHD; was autistic; was bipolar; was schizophrenic; suffered from low self esteem; suffered from delusions of grandeur; was the product of a cold upbringing; was smothered by his family; was the product of too lenient an education; was the product of too demanding an education; was too poor; was too privileged. On and on.

All nice theories, but anyone you see discussing any of these things early on is more interested in showcasing their personal and professional obsessions and selling books than actually applying serious analysis to the situation. It's great to zero in on causation, but not so great when it's based on zero supporting evidence. Since the gunman was helpful enough to send NBC taped and written statements, at least there's something to go on; but watch for all the "experts" to hang their pet theories on them by the thinnest of threads.

And even so, just to cover their empty and agenda-driven bloviating, all of the above commentators will fall back on the ultimate condemnation in America as the cause of this massacre. We've heard it every time one of these incidents occurs. Say it with me:

"He was a loner."

Oh, horrors! A loner. Yes, there's the basic cause right there. Left-wing or right-wing, natural law or law-n-order, who's gonna argue with that?

Well, I will. I'm sick of this lazy formulation, not the least because I'm somewhat of a loner myself. So let's get it straight once and for all, shall we?

Most violently disturbed and chronically alienated people like the VA Tech gunman are loners because, hey, that's part of the deal. Emphasising that the gunman was a "loner" is stating the painfully obvious, so why do it?

There's an answer. It's about the converse assumption -- the dishonest tautology implied every time "he was
a loner" is brought up: because this gunman was a loner, it must therefore follow that most loners have the potential to be violently disturbed or chronically alienated people. Loners are time bombs just waiting to explode. They don't conform, they don't subscribe to conventional wisdom, they don't engage in superficial conversation, they're introverts, they have esoteric hobbies, they disrespect arbitrary authority -- ergo, those loners must be deranged. Watch them, shun them, cure them.

This is not about boosting the average Joe's self-esteem. In the end, the "loner" causation argument serves no other purpose but to re-inforce the pernicious Human Resources Culture, the Fourth Purpose (in
John Taylor Gatto's words) that's ground into Americans from elementary school through to corporate life and retirement. Forget the gregarious psycho manager or bullying athlete or kiss-up student body president -- it's the loner who's the real problem. The message: look at what happened at VA Tech, then look around your workplace and quail in fear: if he's not a "team player," it stands to reason he's insane and dangerous. It's the worst sort of propaganda, with all the assumptions of the audience's lack of critical thinking that implies.

And there we have it: the American media culture's version of "insight" into this horrific event. As repulsive and degrading as the massacre was to the victims -- living and dead -- what we'll see in the media in the weeks that follow isn't going to restore much dignity or honour to them.

[Some readers will notice that I didn't use the gunman's name in this piece -- that's a deliberate editorial choice]

- posted by Gracchus

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