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Northern Illinois University

February 15, 2008

Another day, another university shooting this time only only a couple hours from here.  You can’t work in a university building and not think about troubled students, about your own community, and about… the exits.  And what I would do, and who I would hope to be in the building when it happens.  We have a fine university police force.

Once again we’ll be treated to a round of “why” when the event is so rare that there is hardly any likelihood of a consistent reason.  And proposed solutions, we’ll have plenty of those.  There may be a little bit of truth in all of it, but no complete truth anywhere despite the religious opportunists piling on.

I don’t offer a solution, only a counterbalance; try to brighten the light of human kindness today.  Give someone a compliment, take an extra moment to help out a student or co-worker, and remember that cynicism is toxic in greater than the most minute doses.

I forget to be kind all too often so it’s important to cultivate it as a habit.  Lately I’ve been too grumpy, too cynical, too focused on my own concerns.  Kindness won’t bring back the dead or even necessarily prevent the next shooting, and it won’t give any insight as to ‘why’.  But I am certain that there isn’t enough of it.


  • My boss (ex- mil police) recommends this book, Verbal Judo. It’s a set of nonviolent tools for violent situations.  Since I can’t envision myself as the Rambo type, I’m going to pick up a copy and study it.

Categories: News, observations
  1. February 15, 2008 at 14:10 | #1

    I’ve had ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ playing in my head all day today:

    I can’t believe the news today
    I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.
    How long, how long must we sing this song?
    How long, how long?
    ‘Cos tonight
    We can be as one, tonight.

    Broken bottles under children’s feet
    Bodies strewn across the dead-end street.
    But I won’t heed the battle call
    It puts my back up, puts my back up against the wall.

    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Oh, let’s go.

    And the battle’s just begun
    There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?
    The trenches dug within our hearts
    And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
    Torn apart.

    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.

    How long, how long must we sing this song?
    How long, how long?
    ‘Cos tonight
    We can be as one, tonight.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.

    Wipe the tears from your eyes
    Wipe your tears away.
    I’ll wipe your tears away.
    I’ll wipe your tears away.
    I’ll wipe your bloodshot eyes.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.
    Sunday, bloody Sunday.

    And it’s true we are immune
    When fact is fiction and TV reality.
    And today the millions cry
    We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.

    The real battle just begun
    To claim the victory Jesus won

    Sunday, bloody Sunday
    Sunday, bloody Sunday..


  2. February 15, 2008 at 16:13 | #2

    In many ways I lose my optimism on these issues. I have tried first hand to help students in ways that go beyond the normal expectations of my duties. But yet I still get my work and time thrown back in my face. In other words, for some of these cases I’m really not sure there is much we can do but minimize the loses.

    Besides DOF’s recommendation I guess I would add we need to change the culture of our society that looks down upon people for getting help and talking to a psychiatrist. Maybe if we valued people getting help, more would do so rather than acting out on their aggression.

  3. Ted
    February 16, 2008 at 07:48 | #3

    I must be in the midst of manic depression episode, because lately, everything I read has been depressing.

    Personally, I love what we’ve become and what it tells about us; the more educated and affluent we become, the more our standards of comfort improve, the more our stupidity and laziness floats to the top. Being a pessimist at heart, it warms my cackles when the buggy picks up unstoppable speed downhill.


  4. Janet
    February 16, 2008 at 09:10 | #4

    (Posted for email correspondent who had trouble commenting)

    I could not seem to get the comments to accept my entry and I really don’t have time to jump thru a lot of e-hoops so I just thought I would go ahead and email you what I’ve been thinking.  This shooting really hit me hard.  Knowing so many people in education, this hits me almost as hard as it hits those working in these environs every day.

    I came to your site today after watching the news and learning about the shooting yesterday.  I’m a UI grad (that’s where the shooter last lived and went to school) and my sister and bro-in-law are grads of NIU.  The CBS news said there have been 6 like this around the US in the past seven days; they mentioned Louisiana for one.  And then there was the Iowa city council shooting last week.  This is awful.  This is really awful, and I don’t know if kindness can stop these rampages or not.  Mental illness is behind some of it.  CBS news said the NIU shooter had recently gone off meds and was reported to be acting erratically for a couple weeks.  How can kindness solve that sort of problem.  I don’t know…I’m old enough (and uninterested in video games enough) to wonder if video games play a very important role.  We are seeing a whole generation of college kids now who had access to violent video games.

    Now, I’m no prude and I haven’t been a big fan of govt. censorship, but now I’m beginning to think SOMEONE has to say no to some of these things.  The kids are spending a lot of time with these games and I can’t help but think that—knowing what I know about critical-period brain development in animals and children—that these video games are adding to the problem.  Please don’t think me too prudish on this; I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years and am not being cavalier or flippant here.

    One more thing to add: CBS’s news coverage of the event this evening included a five-second video re-enactment of the killer entering the classroom with a gun.  I can’t tell you how much this short video clip eerily reminded me of exactly what these kids are growing up looking at when they play the violent video games.  Video games aren’t about eye-hand coordination the way ping-pong and even pac-man are; that’s how video games started out, but now they are about killing and hunting people.  There is a big difference between the two when a brain is developing and growing.  Big difference.

    Thanks for listening.  I had to talk about this somewhere this evening, and your fine, even-handed blog seemed a good place to do it since I don’t have my own.

  5. Lucas
    February 16, 2008 at 16:32 | #5

    I look at US murder rates, and also jump to the conclusion that violent video games had something to do with it.  As you can see, the murder rate has declined sharply since 1993—the very year that Doom came out.  Coincidence?  Inconceivable.  We should all be thanking video games. 

    BTW, many (perhaps most) video game players don’t like first-person shooter games.  I personally find them very boring, and prefer puzzle games, which are almost always nonviolent.

  6. February 16, 2008 at 22:31 | #6

    I have played violent video games my entire life. I watched my first rated “R” movie in 5th grade. I used to fall asleep listening to Marilyn Manson. I still listen to heavy metal sometimes, and I still listen to rap/hip-hop every once in awhile. None of these are predictors of violent behavior. Not a single one.

    Find me a piece of evidence other than a flapping head on TV and maybe I will consider these things as predictors. Until then lets start looking at better possibilities such as our society that treats those needing help as criminals. Or how our society makes you feel stupid, “retarded”, or whatever for wanting to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for help. Instead we should support people for getting help, and for young adults this just doesn’t happen.

  7. Ted
    February 17, 2008 at 10:28 | #7

    This is not really a contribution to the discussion but it is an interesting link to the game contributing theory.

    I do think that games impact some people poorly. There was some discussion to the genetic predisposition of people for various addictions—so although webs05 got out of it, a significant other percentage may not and there’s a large marketing machine to make sure they don’t. For the time being, I believe that some people are predisposed to addiction, and I also believe that your community shapes your values, mores, etc and rewires your brain.

    I’m with the lady above that thinks games contribute to alienation and function as a poor substitute for reality.

    Will we get a real, serious scientific peek into that? I’m not holding my breath; the consumer numbers are against it. We have enough throwaway people in the population that I doubt it will percolate to the top and game industry will stand idly by while someone drives a stake into their heart. Being passive isn’t what FPS RPGs are about, and that’s clearest to the game executives and lobbyists that represent them.

  8. February 17, 2008 at 14:19 | #8

    Interesting link, Ted.  Gonna think about it for a while and turn it into a post of its own.  It seems like “How human society will become Talosian society”

    I once attended a lecture by Col. David Grossman who coined the term; “murder simulator” and says that the army uses specially designed video games to improve the kill ratio of our soldiers in the field.  He has also written extensively on the treatment of PTSD among former soldiers.  From his presentation i gathered that most people may not be affected toward violence by video games, but violent people are enabled to be vastly more effective.  Apparently the Army has found that first-person shooter games are to firearm violence what flight simulator games are to flying an actual plane; surprisingly effective training devices.

    Reading a thread on Pharyngula about the shooting (355 comments and counting) I am struck by how certain some people are that they have real insight into such rare events as mass shootings.  And mass shootings are rare, even here in the US.

  9. February 17, 2008 at 15:28 | #9
  10. Janet
    February 17, 2008 at 15:36 | #10

    That #3 listed on the cracked.com article that Ted gave is chilling.
    David Wann, who wrote his previous book Affluenza, cites a Nat. Sci. Foundation study: 1 of 4 Americans don’t have anyone to confide in or celebrate with.  He was talking about American obsessions with “stuff” and the decline of community and interaction…well, you can listen here * or look at Amazon’s reviews of the new book, Simple Prosperity I imagine.

    *sorry I don’t know how to make this a link so here’s the long URL: 
    http://www.wpr.org/cardin/index.cfm?strDirection=Prev&dteShowDate=2008-02-14 08:00:00)

  11. Janet
    February 17, 2008 at 15:48 | #11

    Sorry—my last comment was incomplete, in that I wished to bring together the fact that the extreme numbers of hours some kids spend in front of video games for much of their developmental stage are hours that in previous generations used to be spent building relationships and things like learning to swim and playing kick the can.
    Wann talks about how Americans work harder than other people in other countries yet makes the case for how society, community, and compassion are not benefiting from it.  He mentions that getting $600 back with the tax refund will be nice, but there is no direction to it; just handing out a check and saying “go buy something to stimulate the economy” offers no real societal improvement.
    I apologize for getting on a soap box.  Just wanted to finish up with the sort of things that were on my mind during the 48 hours surrounding this NIU shooting.

  12. Ted
    February 17, 2008 at 16:06 | #12

    Apparently the Army has found that first-person shooter games are to firearm violence what flight simulator games are to flying an actual plane; surprisingly effective training devices.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I saw this really cheesy movie called The Last Starfighter.

    I thought to myself, “What a crappy movie, but even crappy movies can have a hell of a concept—when looking for someone willing to drop a bomb eight thousand miles away from the comfort of bad GSA furniture in the belly of the Pentagon.” Recruitment and HR are hard bidness.

    Re: Grossman.

    Killology? Really?

    Excuse me for thinking the guy is an over-class tool engaged in parlaying his limited expertise into punditry. Anything to keep away from a day of honest work I’d guess.

    RE: webs05 cartoon link—Gun manufacturers received immunity under George Bush and the Republican controlled congress. No one is going to go after them. Ironically, Republicans had no issue with making a states right prerogative into federally immunizing legislation. So much for big government vs. small government that Republicans cherish.

    Thank god they’ve got that “friend of businessman/knowers of economy” thing to fall back on. Because if they were to screw that up, they’d really be t*ts on a boar hog.

  13. Ted
    February 17, 2008 at 16:15 | #13

    He mentions that getting $600 back with the tax refund will be nice, but there is no direction to it; just handing out a check and saying “go buy something to stimulate the economy” offers no real societal improvement.
    I apologize for getting on a soap box.

    That’s what the commentariat is for. Unsolicited soapboxery for as long as the host permits you to litter up his roadside shack with detritus. :-)

    What they should do is give you you the $600 on a consumer gift card that HAS to be spent within 120 days, and can’t be used to buy down your plastic debt or put into savings.

    They do want it to go back into the consumer economy right? Because if you put it into the bank you’d just be putting it into insolvent institutions short on capital.

    BTW DOF, is there a way to turn OFF the generated smilies? I like my ASCII smilies just fine. Your artistic renderings make me look like a round headed Charlie Brown effusive, and I’m looking for something more abstracted and detached.

  14. Janet
    February 17, 2008 at 16:29 | #14

    If I get a refund, you can bet it will go right into that $700 per month that I pay for health insurance.  That insolvent institution is sucking me dry.  I don’t have money to buy anything but taxes, electricity, and health insurance.

  15. Ted
    February 19, 2008 at 08:23 | #15

    See? Insolvent institutions need your $600. Thank the quants.  :-) .

  16. February 19, 2008 at 09:09 | #16

    Very interesting Ted! My econ teacher in college told our class one of the only reasons our economy didn’t collapse after 9/11 was because the Fed Reserve pushed out massive amounts of money. And no one really new because it wasn’t really reported, partly because public perception can be just as devastating to the economy as Bush.

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