Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Three Thoughts on Virginia Tech

1. I hesitate to write anything about the massacre two days ago at Virginia Tech. Too many words have been produced already, by endless blogs and editorials, by the blather of the 24-hour cable news cycle. Words always fall short of such horrors, and it seems the more words we produce about it, the farther they are from hitting the mark. Whereof we cannot speak, to quote Wittgenstein out of context, thereof we must remain silent.

Still, I can hardly resist . . .

2. Last night I saw a couple of commercials on television for movies involving heavily armed men causing mayhem. One image, of a man with large automatic weapons hanging crossed on his back with a pistol in each hand, was clearly meant to be the iconic cool image of the film.

I remembered hearing in a news account from Virginia Tech that the shooter was emotionless and silent, carrying out his killings with a grim efficiency and a straight face.

Putting these together, I remembered an iconic image from some years ago: two people, a man and a woman, enter the lobby of an office building. They are wearing long, black trench coats and designer sunglasses; their hair is slicked back. They throw open their coats to reveal a virtual armamentarium, and they proceed to carry out a series of killings with grim efficiency, straight faces, and really cool aerial martial-arts acrobatics in slow motion.

These were the good guys.

I am not claiming direct causality here, only pointing out the parallel.

3. Regarding criticism of the administration at Virginia Tech, I have to say that I can understand the difficulty of their situation. They seem to have been trying to avoid one type of error (a "false positive" in effect, alerting people to a risk that is not there) and fell into another (a "false negative", not alerting people to a risk that was there.) Should they not have been more cautious?

I'm sure there are a lot of things that go into such decisions, but consider: had they sounded the alarm and locked down the campus, the massacre might never have happened. In fact, that would the point of sounding the alarm. But then, what would all the fuss have been about? They might have been criticized for crying wolf.

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