I wrote yesterday that there are no acceptable changes to current law that would have prevented Saturday’s horrific events, but Clayton Cramer says that perhaps there is one:

In 1950, a person who was behaving oddly stood a good chance of being hospitalized. It might be for observation for a few days or a few weeks. If the doctors decided that this person was mentally ill, they would be committed, perhaps for a few months, perhaps longer. Hospital space was always at a premium, so generally, if someone was kept, there was a reason for it. The notion that large numbers of sane people were kept for no reason just has not survived my research efforts.

I will not claim that the public mental hospitals back then were wonderful places. They were chronically underfunded from the 1930s through the 1950s, and even into the 1960s, conditions in some were the shame of civilized people everywhere. (Ken Kesey wrote the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest after taking LSD and going to work at a mental hospital, and the film by that name is not a documentary.) But it did mean that many people who were mentally ill were either locked up (where they did not have access to guns, knives, or gasoline) or at least not sleeping on a park bench, catching pneumonia.

A large fraction of the “homeless” population are people who in earlier times would have had “homes,” though little or no freedom. But it’s not clear the degree to which people who are slaves to the roiling and chaotic chemical impulses of their brains can be said to be free, either, and some percentage of them endanger the rest of us, as we saw. But speaking as someone with a history of this in his family, it’s a very tough problem.

[Tuesday morning update]

“Politically incorrect” thoughts from Dr. Helen.


Stupidest Politician

It’s a tight contest:

Unfortunately for Clyburn, Kerrey is making a strong run for the championship himself, as RCP again captures. Kerrey says that the perp was “mentally ill and deeply troubled,” and therefore Kerrey said he would demur from making too much of his political beliefs — right after Kerrey announces that the attack was motivated by the upcoming vote to repeal ObamaCare.

Well, at least no one is blaming Bush. Yet.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, we have a new contender:

The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords really did rattle Washington. It took an entire day before someone reacted by proposing new, horrible legislation.

That someone is Rep. Bob Brady D-Pa., who told CNN Sunday that he’d draft a bill making it a crime to use words or images that looked violent or threatening to public officials. “You can’t put bull’s eyes or crosshairs on a United States congressman or a federal official,” Brady said. “The rhetoric is just ramped up so negatively, so high, that we have got to shut this down.” The solution: Expand Title 18, Section 871 of the U.S. Code so that more public servants would be protected from written threats.

Would it be rude to point out the problem with this? There’s no evidence—none—that violent pictures or words inspired the violence in Arizona.

Gee, what was I saying the other day? Oh, right:

As usual, the event will be used as an excuse for everyone to saddle up their political hobby horses. In the coming days, we can count on renewed demands to do things that either wouldn’t have prevented this, or would so restrict our freedom and way of life as to have allowed this particular terrorist to win.

Right on cue.

Another Comparison And Contrast

between Fort Hood and Tucson:

Shootings, beheadings, stonings, you name it. No big deal. Nearly a month after the Fort Hood massacre, the NYT’s Thomas Friedman finally worked out that Hasan was “just another angry jihadist”. Which was what Hasan tried to tell us from the very beginning.

Now to Tucson, Arizona, where six people are dead and Democrat congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is seriously injured following another gun rampage. Attacker Jared Lee Loughner has thus far offered no clue at all about why he did it. Apparently the fellow is a drug-using gamer whom one former classmate recalls as “left wing”, a “political radical”, “reclusive”, a “pot head” and “quite liberal”. He’d met Giffords four years ago and thought her “stupid & unintelligent”. Besides that background and Loughner’s MySpace and YouTube rantings, that’s all we have. There’s no “Allahu Akbar” here. Yet – incredibly – many clearly heard a cry of “Allahu Palin”.

They apparently have no sense of irony. I know whose souls should be searched here, and it isn’t Sarah Palin’s or the Tea Partiers.

The Arizona Tragedy

…and the politics of blood libel.

If you really want to elevate civility in public discourse, you could start by not falsely accusing your political opponents of being accomplices to murder. But that’s not really their goal. Their goal is to quash any opposition to their agenda.

[Update a few minutes later]

United in horror:

Violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that’s far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue — a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast.

This is the world that gave us Oswald and Bremer. More recently, it’s given us figures like James W. von Brunn, the neo-Nazi who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum in 2009, and James Lee, who took hostages at the Discovery Channel last summer to express his displeasure over population growth. These are figures better analyzed by novelists than pundits: as Walter Kirn put it Saturday, they’re “self-anointed knights templar of the collective shadow realm, not secular political actors in extremis.”

This won’t stop partisans from making hay out of Saturday’s tragedy, of course. The Democratic operative who was quoted in Politico saying that his party needs “to deftly pin this on the Tea Partiers” was just stating the obvious: after a political season rife with overheated rhetoric from conservative “revolutionaries,” the attempted murder of a Democratic congresswoman is a potential gift to liberalism.

But if overheated rhetoric and martial imagery really led inexorably to murder, then both parties would belong in the dock. (It took conservative bloggers about five minutes to come up with Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican politicians.) When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.

But expect the liars and demagogues to continue to do it for perceived political gain.

[Update a couple minutes later]

The “Progressive” climate of hate. A ten-year retrospective.

Intern Of The Year

This guy should get a raise:

“When I heard gunshots, my first instinct was to head toward the congresswoman to make sure that she was okay,” Hernandez said in an interview with ABC’s Christine Amanpour Sunday. “Once I saw that she was down, and there were more than one victim, I went ahead and started doing the limited triage that I could with what I had.”

Hernandez, who is 20, told ABC that he simply “shut off all emotion.” “I knew I wouldn’t be good to anyone if I had a breakdown,” he recalled. He noted that he went to help because he had “limited experience in triage and training.”

He lifted up Giffords’ head, because he feared she might choke on her own blood, and used smocks from the grocery store’s meat department as a makeshift bandages for her and other victims.

Giffords, he says, was alert, but couldn’t talk.

“‘Just grab my hand to let me know that you’re okay,'” he recalls telling the injured lawmaker.

According to Hernandez, she squeezed his hand, and he didn’t let go, riding with her in the ambulance to the hospital, where she was rushed into emergency surgery.

“It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots,” he told the Arizona Republic. “But people needed help.”

You never know how you’re going to react to such events, but he definitely performed far above and beyond.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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