Wounding, Healing, Heeling and Heiling

What follows may seem indulgent, or even frivolous. But this blog doesn’t cover the same old territory: Saturday, thanks to Scott B. ( to whom a tip ‘o the hat) I had the Sarah Palin “target” graphic and link in my possession far in advance of most of the media, along with the YouTube videos from the alleged shooter. I chose not to blast them out there, and I had good reason not to: there was no doubt that they would blast out there within hours or even minutes, and that was, to my mind, wrong.

I’ll tell you why.

Because yesterday’s assassination — in Tucson Arizona, in a Safeway supermarket parking lot — was going to be roiling in chaos throughout the day. What seemed important was separating fact from fiction, and not launching any finger-pointing or deep thoughts about the rhetoric of political violence in America. There would be plenty of time for that, later. Besides, the last time I showed the “naked lunch” of where this indecent language of political immoderation might be heading, Faux Nooz™ ran a chyron calling me an “assassin.”

No: this goes back to a day in 1963, when I was 19 days shy of my eighth birthday, sitting in a tree in the sun at noon with my best pal of second grade, Tommy.

Whiting Elementary School, in Laramie, Wyoming did not have a cafeteria. But Washington Elementary, three blocks up 9th Avenue did. Evidently, at some point during the Baby Boom (which we Second Graders had shown up smack dab in the middle of) the older Washington school had outgrown its capacity, and Whiting handled (as I recall) only grades one to three. I attended Kindergarten in Washington, and would have — had we not moved — attended grades 4, 5 and 6 at Washington. But I’d gone to First Grade at Whiting (where the first words we were Officially Taught to Read were “red” and “orange”) and was almost midway through Second Grade, awaiting the dreamt-of Christmas Vacation and ten or so days of glorious freedom.

Whiting Elementary, Laramie, Wyo.

Because Whiting didn’t have a cafeteria, we would be lined up and marched, en masse, to the Washington cafeteria, where our school lunch tickets would be taken and we would eat that standard fare that cafeterias all over the land serve. By that time, the old pencil trick was de rigeur: pop your pencil into the milk carton (taking care not to make the hole too big) so that you could insert your straw with an airtight seal. Then, blow into the milk carton and let the pressure stream the cold milk into your mouth effortlessly. I do not think that we had beets that day, because I always dreaded beet days, and was torn between my hatred of them and my mother’s stern admonition to finish all the food on my plate. Playing with your food or toying with it or turning one’s nose up at something was verboten in my house.

When lunch was finished (they staggered the time between the two schools for dual cafeteria use, and we often met the mysterious, older Washington elementary crowd in the interstice between lunch seatings), we were lined up, counted and marched three blocks back to Whiting Elementary, and one teacher sat at a card table in front of the school while we squealed and squalled on the playground and the other Whiting teachers had a long lunch break to smoke a well-deserved cigarette or nip from a hip flask, one supposes.

And that sunny November afternoon, just back from the Washington Elementary cafeteria and salisbury steaks, instant potatoes, brown industrial gravy and a vegetable that wasn’t beets, the news spread throughout the playground that John F. Kennedy was dead.

***

As I said, I was one of the first viewers of the Jared Lee Lougher YouTube site. Here’s my screencap from yesterday (altered to show the “hits”):

click for site

And here is the same screen at 7:30 AM PST, less than 24 hours after the infamous shooting:

click for site (same as above,
your mileage may vary)

I didn’t make it to Loughner’s MySpace page. I use MySpace so little that, by the time I could dig out my ID and password, the page had been taken down. Still, as I had known it would, others had captured the wayward page before Rupert Murdoch’s internet company could take it down and pass it on to Rupert Murdoch’s news unit. (One of the reasons that I don’t use MySpace much anymore.)

But in the mad rush to judgment that we have seen since the news broke yesterday morning, I might have published my “findings” and chose not to. Mea culpa. But sometimes being “first” isn’t the same thing as being right. Actually, it generally isn’t.

Because ever since that November day in 1963, I have made a sort of study, a “hobby” of listening to the blather that accompanies breaking news. The facts are not entirely known, but are reported AS facts, nonetheless. Facebook was all atwitter, of course (I don’t know what Twitter was). Here’s how it broke for me (names withheld to protect their privacy):

SB: ?- disturbing America

BREAKING: Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot This Morning At Public Event

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot outside a grocery store in Tucson while holding a public event, Arizona Public Media reported Saturday…

By: Cuéntame

21 hours ago · Like · Comment · Share

RL: Scary indeed. She’s a somewhat progressive Dem who advocated such radical things as freezing her own salary. You’d think the Teatards would respect that.

I’m hoping her and everyone else a speedy recovery.

21 hours ago · Like

SB?- she has been a strong proponent for solar energy, immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, higher minimum-wage, etc… issues that don’t quite “fit” with the political polemic and mindset of much of AZ.

20 hours ago · Like

Tucson local KOLD Saturday News team was on the story all day long

JC: did Glenn Beck put the hit out on her?

20 hours ago · Like

HH: Shocking that this occurred in Arizona.

20 hours ago · Like ·  1 person

SB ?- just read that she barely won her re-election in Nov.

20 hours ago · Like ·  1 person

DT: Sick..

20 hours ago · Like

MJ: How much longer must we tolerate the intolerant….?

20 hours ago · Like

TL: Just heard on NPR that she and 6 others have died.

20 hours ago · Like

DT: The intolerant own the media.

20 hours ago · Like

CJ: Oh, my God! Terrible! Terrible!

20 hours ago · Like

DT: A total of 7 people have died now.

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams According to Medical center, 4 dead, 7 hospitalized, congresswoman in surgery, according to KOLD live stream

20 hours ago · Like

DT: She’s dead..

20 hours ago · Like

***

The news spread throughout the playground that John F. Kennedy was dead.

Model of PT-109 . Commanded by LTJG John F. Kennedy

I was sitting in the tree on the north side of Whiting with my best pal, Tommy, who was distinguished — apart from his almost hairlessness, which we all suffered with — by the lack of his complete upper set of incisors, all four in a neat, grannyish row. Whatever we were talking about I don’t know. But I do remember that my first thought, irrationally, was I felt sorry for the fat kid who was a complete PT-109 freak, having seen the movie multiple times, and brought his prized Revell-Monogram
model of LTJG John F. Kennedy’s PT-109
boat from World War II (an early movie tie-in, before the days of Happy Meals and decorated “collectors” plastic fast food cups).

Hairless Hart, the next summer
looking forward in time to this article

The news spread throughout the playground that John F. Kennedy was dead.

Except that he wasn’t. Not yet, at least. Not officially. But that didn’t stop the girls from wailing and all that blubbering offended my seven-year-old sensibilities.

I walked over to the teacher sitting at the card table, who was listening to the local AM station, KOWB, on an avocado-green portable plastic radio (portable being about the size of a compact dictionary or a really fat Kindle.) And the announcer did one of those “for our listeners who are just tuning in, this is what has happened” summaries, which was why Saturday’s shooting in Tucson was so eerily like that after lunch on the playground.

President John F. Kennedy, Laramie, Wyoming, September 25, 1963

The President had been shot, and had been rushed to Parkview Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He was in surgery.

And I made it my mission to repeat the news, when the wailing of second grade girls announced that President Kennedy was dead.

The old timey bell then rang, and we filed inside to begin the afternoon.

Our teacher was besieged by requests, “was it true?” etc. She told everyone to take their seats.

Then an announcement came on the P.A. from the principal’s office. The president of the United States of America, whom many of us — myself included — had just seen speak at the University of Wyoming Fieldhouse, on September 25, 1963,  only weeks before, had been pronounced dead, victim of an unknown assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas.

(Betcha can’t spot me in the cub scout unit)

And twenty-nine sets of eyes looked at me with grief and reproach, as if I had personally lied to them, or, perhaps, pulled the trigger.

And I felt ashamed. It is an intense and deeply personal moment that has not lost any of its intensity across the years.

Ironically, the last time I was back in Laramie, a few years ago, Whiting Elementary had been turned into a schoolbook depository.

Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from the Texas Schoolbook Depository on Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, which I had to drive through twice a week when I was in my junior year in college, and doing the “Dallas” run to pick up new records and tapes for my off-campus employer, Budget Tapes & Records.

And every time I drove through that haunted freeway exit, I thought of that day in second grade, the answer to the cliché question of the Seventies and Eighties, “where were you when Kennedy was shot?”

And you always had to ask: “Which one?”

***

A culture is made — or destroyed — by its articulate voices.

– Ayn Rand,  The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, 1989

This Saturday in January, waiting for the so-so NFL playoffs to begin upstairs, I was mindlessly on Facebook (is there any other way?) and checking stats, doing housekeeping with files and scanning the headlines.

And I realized that I was on that playground again, and I hit the internets and found the stuff that you’ve all heard, and found the best live stream, Tucson’s KOLD, who, in my opinion, ought to win Emmys and Pulitzers or whatever you give such a news organization. They got on the story like reporters and they covered their beat.

When besieged by “MEETOO!” reports from CNN, Reuters, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, etc. (including the magic eyes of Doug “Gateway Pundit” Hoft), KOLD refused to go along with the reports of the Congresswoman’s death, for which they earn my undying respect.

The reports of the Congresswoman’s death were premature — as we all now know.

And that’s the point: at that point we DIDN’T know. And the wild reports were swirling around the playground.

I got on Facebook and began posting updates. (And yes, Facebook’s chronology is confusing, although the sequence is correct):

CJ: Oh, my God! Terrible! Terrible!

20 hours ago · Like

TD: A total of 7 people have died now.

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams According to Medical center, 4 dead, 7 hospitalized, congresswoman in surgery, according to KOLD live stream

20 hours ago · Like

DT: She’s dead..

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Not according to the local TV station and the hospital.

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams http://www.kold.com/ for live stream

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Hospital is asking national news to retract news of death. Confirms that she is alive, in surgery. LA Times, et al, report death.

20 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Hospital press conference will be held at 1:30 PM MST, 12:30 PM PST

19 hours ago · Like

DT: Yep..

19 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Confirmed 18 injured. 22 year old suspect. Has criminal record. (Press conference)

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams SUSPECT Name Jared Lofner. From Tucson.

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams ?5 victims in O.R. 5 in Critical condition.

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams ?1 dead at hospital. (Congressional aide?) Congresswoman is alive, out of surgery. Shot in head. (confirmed press conference) … Person who died was a young child.

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams So, is this “taking our county back”? Assholes.

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Child was 9 year old girl.

18 hours ago · Like

Hart Williams Congresswoman is still alive, “fighting for her life.”

18 hours ago · Like

SB?- disturbing America

Unlike the schoolyard, l0ng ago, this time, the premature reports had been inexcusably wrong, and the facts filtered out. That little TV station in Tucson, Arizona did an admirable job, except for the Alpha Male Gray Eminance, who’d been roused from his hot tub and rushed down to the studio to get the “A” team on the story (when the “B” team was doing a helluva job all by itself).

Somehow, he couldn’t get out from under his ideology long enough to eschew going off on how people will try to attack gun laws, and how Congresswoman Gifford was in favor of gun laws and owned one herself … all while she was still on the operating table! It was the only shameful moment in an otherwise stellar job of covering the chaos of a developing national story and national tragedy.

He sounded just like he looked …

***

Now, why is it that it’s important to know the truth, the FACTS before anything else?

Because belief is often confused with facts, resulting in horrific and wrong actions. We never have ALL the facts, of course, but history is replete with examples of disastrous actions initiated by an extremely poor grasp of the facts that might have been known at the time and were ignored or discounted.

For example, if you BELIEVE someone to have, say, “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and they don’t have them, when you invade and murder the inhabitants of that nation (that poses no actual threat, geographically or armamentarium-wise, then you’ve committed a war crime. If what you believed were facts, the same actions would be justifiable. But you HAVE to know the facts.

Or, if you believe that AIDS is spread exclusively via anal sex, then you have carte blanche to ghettoize and demonize entire male communities in major cities especially on the West Coast. If you know it to be a disease, then you find the manners in which it is spread, and do what you can to stop it.  If you believe that homeless people are just shiftless and lazy, then you ignore their growing and constant numbers from 1983 to the present day and don’t see them unless they have a “radio” voice.

Facts are stubborn things, said John Adams in his famous defense of the British soldiers charged with the Boston Massacre. But they are also critically important things. “Critical,” as in “crisis,” which is the moment in which facts are often least in evidence and most in ‘necessary.’

Fortunately, most people aren’t in any position where a complete misunderstanding of “facts” and wild stories have any real impact. But if the crisis is real, immediate and existential (in the sense of whether one “continues to exist”), the most valuable commodity in the Universe are the simple facts necessary to assess and act decisively.

The job of journalism is to report those facts. Not to do this:

click for larger

Here’s the lede:

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shot dead in Arizona; gunman held
From Reuters
January 8, 2011, 11:24 a.m.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona died after being shot in the head while meeting constituents at a grocery store in Tucson, NPR reported on Saturday.

Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat in her third term in Congress, was shot point blank by an unidentified gunman who fired indiscriminately into the crowd, NPR and other U.S. media said.

There is no link. The story has conveniently vanished.

Shameful as it was.

***

As I said, I had been ashamed of that moment on the playground on November 22, 1963 for nearly fifty years now. But I also began paying attention to the quality of news coverage in the hours after a major event. It is always chaotic, wild and irrational rumors are often reported as “facts,” and the “reality” three days later is quite different than the facts, as known at the time. The “facts” are entirely different a week later, and then they begin to “harden” into a solid block of historical sludge, difficult to question or alter as time passes.

Because my mother was first, as student, and then an instructor, I had “family” privileges, and I used to go to the Coe Library at the University of Wyoming (and, later, in high school as a mere citizen, the New Mexico State Library) and load up the old microfilms for historical events.

And I was always struck by how little understood events were at the time they were happening. The major battles of World War II are often in the back pages or unreported, while some minor battle of historical insignificance dominates the front pages. Over and over, the early reports look like deranged people were scribbling their notes backwards with crayons held in their toes.

I remember the  chaos of the first reports of the Whittier quake in California, when I first started recording this stuff to keep track of just how crazy the early reporting is. And the opening of the “Gulf War” (I) when all the networks slowly MEETOO’d a report that Marines were assaulting an island in Kuwait City’s harbor. And, while I didn’t have any way of recording it, the early hours of 9-11 (the day, in grim irony, that the 9-year-old girl was born), the early rep0rts of Katrina, and how “Brownie” head of FEMA claimed not to know what was going on … and so on. The early panic and crazy reporting seems to be a fact of life. But if one is willing, before rushing to judgment, one CAN manage to get some good information, and something resembling an accurate picture of what is actually transpiring.

Face it: for a few hours, on Facebook, I was reporting a clearer view of the facts than were NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Faux Nooz™, the AP and many other “legitimate” news sources.

And that oughn’t be the case. Like that seven-year-old boy, I was stalking the playground, trying to disseminate facts and dissuade panic. Only this time, the victim DID NOT DIE. And suddenly the two unrelated events came into a clearer focus. The man confronted the boy.

The facts I reported were the best facts available that day. But the facts have changed, and will continue to change, as time goes by. That’s normal.

Today, the facts in the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords are these:

Alleged shooter mugshot
click for source website

Assassination attempt sends shockwaves across the US
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 10/01/2011
Reporter: Scott Bevan

It’s an assassination attempt that has sent shockwaves across America. Yesterday, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot while holding a public meeting in a car park in Arizona. Six people were killed, including a federal judge, and a 9-year-old girl.

A 22-year-old man has been charged and investigators are trying to work out the motive. The incident has sparked debate over political rhetoric in the US and whether it’s gone too far…

As of Saturday evening, the shooter was a “leftist” or “left wing” or else a spiritual brother to the “tea party” depending on one’s political bent. As of today, the hoary sages of the Left and Right have weighed in. Eye doctor and new Senator Rand Paul was on Sean Hannity’s radio show for a hilarious segment in which Hannity played a montage of “terrible” “leftist” and “liberal” rhetoric that had to go back twenty years and was filled with not very controversial comments. (If I can dig it up, it’s truly a sort of weird Rorschach Blot Test for what’s “over the top” rhetoric.) “Dr.” Rand Paul opined that clearly the shooter was a “paranoid schizophrenic” and it was insulting to ascribe any Tea Party connection to him. Sean Hannity then said that he didn’t know of ANY violent rhetoric or ANY racist Tea Party members, events, episodes, etc.

Really?

I guess Sean not knowing doesn’t mean that it isn’t known. But that’s not really the point. The point seems to be that while jumping to a conclusion that seems utterly apparent, especially in light of the Unitarian church murders and the murder of Dr. Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, the “debate” to create two separate sets of facts is well under way. The horror of Saturday will not faze the talking heads in the least, just as the North and South used the same Bible to justify slavery and justify its abolition as moral imperatives.

***

I remember the funeral of President Kennedy with a seven-year-old’s eyes and priorities.

In those days, cartoons were ghettoized to Saturday mornings on three channels, and I was known to wake before first light, to watch first the test pattern, then “Sunrise Sermonette” and the Agricultural report to get to the Saturday morning cartoons.

That Saturday, no cartoons were on, of course. Sure: I’d watch the funeral.

And so I did, the whole long thing.

For some reason the image that sticks with me is the penguin-like waddle of Charles DeGaulle, wearing his trademark semi-kepi:

And, after the end, they didn’t show any cartoons. This seemed incredible and a gyp to my seven-year-old sensibilities, but soon another Saturday would come, and I would have my cartoons again. It isn’t particularly ennobled, nor profound,  but I suppose that it was a natural reaction. I didn’t begrudge the late President his funeral. But I DID need my cartoons.

And the horror of this past Saturday is the realization that the girl who was shot and killed was nine-years old, just a little more than a year older than I was at the time.

Was the gunman a complete lunatic, uninfluenced by the toxic rhetorical sludge of this, the Era of Bad Feeling? Time will tell. The facts may change yet again in the months to come. But, as everyone else is using Representative Giffords’ comments for historical irony, allow me to quote from that JFK speech I’d heard in the old Fieldhouse at U. Wyo. slightly less than two months earlier:

I hope that all of you who are students here will recognize the great opportunity that lies before you in this decade, and in the decades to come, to be of service to our country. The Greeks once defined happiness as full use of your powers along lines of excellence, and I can assure you that there is no area of life where you will have an opportunity to use whatever powers you have, and to use them along more excellent lines, bringing ultimately, I think, happiness to you and those whom you serve.

~ President John F. Kennedy,  September 25, 1963
University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

Hard to gauge whether that’s still good advice. But somewhere, across time and space, a seven-year-old boy no longer feels ashamed.

Courage.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Wounding, Healing, Heeling and Heiling

  1. rhulshofschmidt

    Thanks for a great, though-provoking post. You’ve crystallized my thoughts about the scramble to quick reportage that happened Saturday (and happens too often). FWIW, my musings are posted on The Solipsistic Me.