Monday, January 10, 2011

Cool, aloof, objective (not)

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses after being sworn in for a new term by House Speaker John Boehner.

There are so many things to think about in the aftermath of Saturday afternoon's tragic mass shooting in Tucson that it's hard to know where to begin. Six were killed, 14 wounded --- and U.S. Rep.Gabrielle Giffords, perhaps the principal target, remains in critical condition. It appears she will survive, but her outlook for meaningful recovery is guarded.


First, there was the instant and seemingly universal rush to judgment --- looking for someone to blame. Except for me, of course --- cool, aloof, objective, slow to anger (not).

Actually I wanted to blame the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin, Republicans in general and perhaps the institutional church as well --- my usual suspects. As it turns out, apparently for right now at least, it was none of the above. Instead, the shooter, 22-year-old Jared L. Loughner, acted alone and was driven by the devils in his own head fabricated by some form of mental illness.

There are those who seem almost disappointed about this, which is understandable but distressing --- it's far easier to blame the obvious and understandable than it is to try to plumb the depths of more complex, or  darker or more difficult motivations --- like mental illness. We all do it.

It was good, however, that the topic of how we conduct our public debates came up so often in the aftermath --- and of the need for what one Tea Party activist called, while deploring the shootings, spirited but civil debate. We all need to remember that spirited debate involves neither lies nor inflammatory language and focused righteous anger rather than ungovernable rage.

If there wasn't there should have been out there on the wind once more about the shooter was known, the sound of a mass collective nationwide sigh of relief, from extreme right to extreme left, that for now at least we haven't started shooting each other.


The shooting end of it is another matter. Loughner was able quite legally on Nov. 30 to buy retail in Tucson a Glock 19 9mm semi-automatic pistol that with a standard magazine would have allowed him to fire 15 rounds in quick succession. He had an extended 12-inch magazine that allowed him to wound and kill more --- 20 in total.

I don't have that much trouble with gun ownership --- none with competent hunters or those with a genuine reason to feel threatened who want to carry a concealed handgun. I can live with hobbyists who just get their kicks out of fondling the things. But beyond that, I've got a problem. And spare me the Second Amendment. If you're going to be a strict constructionist --- Glock 19s and their equivalents weren't available on sporting warehouse shelves when that was written and so far as I know, Loughler was not part of a militia. I know them's fighting words in some circles. But I don't buy the idea that we'd be a less violent place if everyone were armed or that unrestricted access to firearms is a good thing in all cases.

Arizona is a National Rifle Association or mass-murderer's dream --- one of only three states (as of July 2010) where anyone over 21 (barring court-imposed restriction and those are complicated to obtain when mental illness is involved) can obtain and carry concealed weapons without permits.

Iowa's restrictions are a little tougher. But a bipartisan effort last year removed the discretion county sheriffs formerly had in issuing concealed weapons permits and turned us into another "shall issue" state as of Jan. 1. The media reported a rush totaling hundreds for permits in several counties on that date. Although a training course is required here, that course does not necessarily have to involve firing a pistol.


It was of interest to me at least that one of "heroes" of Saturday's disaster was Daniel Hernandez, 20, a gay student intern on Giffords' staff and a member of the Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender issues. He very well may have saved Giffords' life by applying immediate first-aid, covering and applying pressure to her wound, lifting her upright in his arms so she did not asphyxiate in her own blood.

Being gay doesn't have much to do with the situation until you start thinking about it a little. In this day and age when so many of us don't like or are fearful of each other, is there anyone out there we loathe or fear to the point that we would not serve as his or her good samaritan? Or is there anyone we would reject as a life-saver if for one reason or another we inadverently stopped breating?

Lots of food for thought here on a snowy Monday morning in Iowa's southern hills.


It's been an interesting start to the day in large part because of new hoops to jump through to retrieve e-mail (only temporary, I hope). The major challenge has been an inability to remember passwords (or to find the scraps of paper I write them on).

Some months ago, Iowatelecom (the service provider for many of us here in Lucas County) was gobbled up by a larger outfit called Windstream. I know a good deal about Iowatelecom, nothing about Windstream --- other than the fact they're a bunch of danged foreigners (that translates as not from Iowa).

Overnight, Windstream began "migrating" Iowatelecom accounts into Windstream accounts. Since I deplore change, that new screen connected to the old shortcut disturbed me --- mostly because in order to get from it to the old sign-in screen where you still had to sign in you had to sign in. And I'd forgotten my password. And couldn't find it. But after typing in every logical password I could remember, finally hit the right one.

Now I've got to figure out how to get into the two organizational Iowatelecom/Windstream accounts I monitor, too. Life is just too complicated some days.

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