Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflections on the Sodini Shooting

I've been linking to Chris Potter's short blog post because I admire it, learned things from it, found it thought-provoking, etc.

So none of this is criticism when I say I felt a disconnect between this portion near its beginning:

Mostly though, I don't want to quote from the site because it seems that's just what its author wants us to do. The bottom of the Web page urges visitors to "Copy this to usenet/newsgroups where my voice will speak forever!" Yeah, no thanks, dipshit.

And its conclusion:

There is some kind of madness in this culture that I don't have a name for. But it seems to be getting worse.

I recognize the syllogism here: he was a murderous dipshit; he wanted us to do something; we won't give him the satisfaction. I just want to point out that that's an unproductive instinct in light of the fact that this is most definitely going to happen again -- many times, in many places, and frequently near or even in our own backyards. You'll notice there was no "How could something like this happen here?" sentiment going around this time; I think we are all starting to absorb that of course it happens here. Here is a terrifying place.

Has it always been this way? Is it like this everywhere on the planet? Is it getting worse, here? Are there reasons? I'd like to figure these things out.

Please don't tell me that by doing so I'd be making excuses for the perpetrator and "blaming society". Mr. George Sodini had a screw loose, and that screw was called 'humanity'. If he were alive I would be in favor of his being punished to the fullest extent of both karma and the law.

But he's not evil anymore, he's just dead.

I'd like to figure out how he came to be in such acute, furious pain for so long. I'd like to figure out how it was that he never sought out or received sufficient -- or seemingly, any -- help, professional or otherwise. I'd like to figure out at what point life's frustrations become so overpowering that some people lash out with weapons of medium destruction. I'd like to know if there's anything we should know or teach or develop or research in order to reverse what does feel like a trend.

So in a way I'm right glad Sandini left behind his Web site, and that Richard Poplawski left behind his comments and sketchy friends, and that Theodore Kaczynski left behind his manifesto. As twisted and unforgivable as these people were, it's clear they were driven internally to tell us something. Of course we shouldn't accept their words at face value, but I hope civilization swallows its pride and reads more deeply into these things -- and far beyond only the most salacious, easily-dismissible or explainable tidbits.

Within hours of the recent shooting, some people were out there saying that for them, this was about easy access to firearms. For others, this was about misogyny and/or racism in our society. For all of us it's largely about feeling awful for this new slew of victims and their loved ones.

There's nothing wrong with those take-aways at all. For me, this is mostly about problems with contemporary American culture, and about its attitudes towards mental health problems and mental health care. Sorry if that offends anyone.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

FERLO: Free-Speech Zones "Morally, Politically and Constitutionally Un-Acceptable"

I'm more than a little late covering this kerfuffle, but it's a neat kerfuffle. On Friday July 24, the Tribune-Review ran an article which led like so:

Sen. Jim Ferlo wants the city's permission to turn Point State Park into a free-speech zone for activists the day before the Group of 20 economic summit begins Downtown. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Later that day, Sen. Ferlo released to the media a copy of the permit request he had sent to Chief Harper and Director Huss, along with a letter directly to Mr. Boren:

Respectfully, I have been in public life for over 25 years and while I have taken exception to various editorials and news reporting I have never written and asked for a correction or retraction. The headline and your own reporting of an interview with me following the release of my letter to local public safety officials amounts to the pusillanimous neglect of accuracy and truth! I never , either in written word or our phone conversation, used the phrase or suggested a so-called "free-speech zone". A so-called "free speech zone" violates our right of free speech and assembly---anywhere! It would amount to me telling you and the Trib and Mr. Scaife that you could only sell or pass out the Trib at certain public intersections....

And more. That's about as definitive a denial and rebuke as it gets. However, I couldn't help but remember a similar article published by the Post-Gazette on June 5:

But, Mr. Ferlo added, he also hopes that protesters' voices will be heard during the event, preferably in a peaceful "free speech" venue near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where leaders will be meeting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday: State of Alarm

Harrisburg could execute a hostile takeover of Pittsburgh's public pension funds:

That "really doesn't take into account the city's ability to pay," said city Finance Director Scott Kunka. The administration would rather make state takeover voluntary, and is talking with Mr. McAneny and local legislators to try to amend the legislation. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The steeper annual payment numbers are one concern, but I have to believe another part of the hesitancy is Pittsburgh not desiring to surrender its own control to an executive agency in Harrisburg. Ordinarily I don't care for turfy-parochialism, but this seems legitimate. If there's a statewide municipal pensions pool, IMVHO, it ought to be driven by a board of municipal representatives.

Why? Because Pennsylvania state government is SUB-ENCOURAGING AT THIS TIME:

A Team 4 investigation finds that the idea of a vending-machine system to sell wine in Pennsylvania grocery stores will benefit two of Gov. Ed Rendell's biggest campaign contributors. One of them is a close friend of the governor. (WTAE, Paul Van Osdol)

Are we going to be able to prove a quid-pro-quo deal was made and indict the Governor? Not on your life. Does this establish beyond any conceivable doubt that large campaign contributions influence public policy? It should. Come on already, everybody -- let's stop pretending.

BY THE WAY: Don't tease me for asking this; online databases frustrate me sometimes. I could have sworn I once read Rendell had significant ties to the electronics industry. I read it in a mainstream news article, long forgotten. If anyone can identity those electronics companies which have been generous to Rendell over the past 3-4 years, please let me know. Pet project.

More in the vein of NOT BEING ENCOURAGED:

Rendell has said he plans to run his veto pen across broad swaths of the GOP-backed spending plan, resulting in a “bridge” budget that would do little more than pay employees and vendors and keep government operating until a permanent accord is reached.

Democrats and Rendell hope that the elimination of funding for scores of programs, ranging from hospitals, school and the arts will put pressure on Republicans to negotiate. (Capitol Ideas, John L. Micek; h/t @JonDelano)

Tell me if you see the potential flaw in this scheme. Our Democratic governor is going to pass a Republican budget, then veto its spending on liberal priorities -- and this is going to put pressure on Republicans to negotiate, rather than simply enjoy a Nordquistian tiny government and make Rendell and his veto pen look like the villains.

State employees are starting to get very nervous -- not for their paychecks this time, but for the strength and survival of the programs to which they are extremely dedicated. More later.