“I don’t have reasons,” Professor Plum said as he walked into the mail room, “but I have excuses.”

He read the mail…. (More)

We asked what he needed excuses for, but Professor Plum simply smiled, shrugged, and left with Ms. Scarlet to join the resident faculty in the wine cellar library, where they’ll spend the weekend drinking thinking on our motto of Magis vinum, magis verum (“More wine, more truth”).

In the staff poker game, the Professor of Astrology Janitor had neither reasons nor excuses, apart from the run of the cards. He had spent most of the last hour folding junk hands, so a pair of black Queens looked very nice indeed. He put in a pot-sized raise and Chef folded, but the Squirrel called.

The flop brought the Ace of Hearts, King of Diamonds, and Six of Clubs. The Squirrel checked and, suspecting the Squirrel had an Ace or King if not both, the Professor of Astrology Janitor checked as well.

The Seven of Diamonds on the turn didn’t seem like a big threat, but it did add a straight draw to the mix. Again the Squirrel checked and the Professor of Astrology Janitor decided he couldn’t give away a free card. He put in a half-pot-sized bet and, as he feared, the Squirrel added a pot-sized raise.

The Squirrel would surely have raised before the flop with a pair of Aces or Kings, but did he have Ace-King, Ace-Seven, Ace-Six, or Seven-Six for two pair? Pocket Sevens or Sixes for three of a kind? Regardless, the Professor of Astrology Janitor was pretty sure his pair of Queens was beaten, so he tossed them in the muck.

The Squirrel huffed and tapped at his Blewberry: “I wanted more from Aces, especially when I flopped a set. I guess I should have raised preflop to get you pot-stuck.”

“I wasn’t getting pot-stuck with only a pair of Threes,” the Professor of Astrology Janitor said, sure the Squirrel was fibbing and figuring he should respond in kind.

Chef chuckled. “You’re both bad liars. Just so you know.”

The Squirrel gave a tail-twitch of protest and the Professor of Astrology Janitor began his plaintive mewling. Chef smiled and went to the kitchen to make a Carb-Safe Breakfast Smoothie, leaving your lowly mail room clerk to review the week’s correspondence….

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Dear Ms. Crissie,

After noting that this week’s mass shooter had no history of violence of connections to extremist groups, NBC’s Pete Williams added: “Why this happened, of course, remains a huge mystery.”

Is this really a mystery? This happens all the time. It happens all the time. It is almost always a young man or boy in late adolescence who enters his school or the school he used to go to and tries to kill as many people as possible rather than any particular person.

The impulse, which is rooted mainly in young men and pretty much exclusively men, is the origin of these things. Depending on where they’re situated they express these murderous rages through an Islamist idea system, or a militia or white supremacist idea system. But I think it’s a mistake to see these different forms of extremism as the cause of these shootings. School shootings are a contagious phenomenon in American society which virtually always involves boys in late adolescence who have histories of rage and alienation and play that out in mass atrocity attacks at their school, which for them is their social world.

We can all see that they are highly choreographed, often using the same set of strategies to maximize fatalities, sometimes with new innovations which are then folded into the ritual of attack. What we call extremist ideologies are really just the languages these guys glom onto to articulate and understand those impulses. This doesn’t mean extremist groups and extremist ideologies don’t matter. For some, they clearly provide a language and a rationale and even a sense of righteousness to their actions. For some that helps bridge the path between extreme rage and actual violence.

But if that’s absent, it’s no mystery. Because it’s a mistake to see them as the real driver. Again, this happens all the time. The motive is pretty clear: angry and alienated young man, a late adolescent consumed with rage and alienation who lives in the United States and thus has become a devotee of the cult, the ideology of the redemptive school shooting atrocity. The ideology is really the cult of the mass shooting, in which the gun, with all its cultural and political omnipotence, plays a central role. Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture. We know the motive. We know the ideology: rage and alienation transmuted through mass gun violence.

Josh in NYC

Dear Josh,

We commend your insightful if somewhat despairing analysis. At the other end of the political spectrum, the National Review’s David French quoted social science reporter Malcolm Gladwell to argue a similar point:

Gladwell then argues that Columbine changed the thresholds. The first seven of the “major” modern school-shooting incidents were “disconnected and idiosyncratic.”

Then came Columbine. The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. They had a Web site. They made home movies starring themselves as hit men. They wrote lengthy manifestos. They recorded their “basement tapes.” Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold. Of the eleven school shootings outside the United States between 1999 and 2007, Larkin says six were plainly versions of Columbine; of the eleven cases of thwarted shootings in the same period, Larkin says all were Columbine-inspired.

Here’s the most ominous part of the Gladwell thesis. The “low threshold” shooters are motivated by “powerful grievances,” but as the riot spreads, the justifications are often manufactured, and the shooters more and more “normal.” Here’s Gladwell’s chilling conclusion:

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

While early reports are often wrong, there are indications that the Texas shooter engaged in behavior that sounds eerily like the Columbine shooting. We’ve seen reports of a trench coat, of the use of similar weapons, and of explosives — all hallmarks of the Colorado massacre. When I think of Columbine, I think of Gladwell’s essay. There are young men in the grip of a terrible contagion, and there is no cure coming.

We feel compelled to note that the early reports were indeed wrong. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Texas shooter’s did have an individual target: a girl who rejected him and embarrassed him in class.

Even so, the Washington Post reports that the school had not one but two armed officers on campus, and an active-shooter response plan. Indeed the school had won a statewide award for its safety program. And still, after killing his target, the shooter killed nine other students before he was captured.

All of that said, we worry that this “cult of the mass shooting” analysis will be cited to ‘prove’ the gun-lobby’s meme of Gun Laws Can’t Stop This. That meme is only true if we examine mass shootings as isolated incidents, obsessing on specific details and citing the ways stricter gun laws would not have prevented this single tragedy. That – coupled with an attitude of If This One Change Won’t Solve Everything, It Won’t Solve Anything – leads to perpetual inaction … and surrenders to perpetual mass murder.

Meanwhile, we throw hundreds of billions of dollars every year at the statistically smaller risks of terrorist attacks and crimes by undocumented immigrants, acknowledging that the mountains of money and often cruel and repressive policies won’t stop every such attack, but insisting We Must Do Whatever It Takes to Keep Americans Safe.

So we’re left to wonder: how many of these mass shootings might we have prevented if we committed to curbing crimes by angry white men in risk-based proportion to our efforts to curb the fewer crimes by Muslims and immigrants?

We can only conclude that we solve, or at least try to solve, the problems whose ‘solutions’ we wanted to do anyway. It’s not simply mass shooters who have excuses rather than reasons. It’s our elected officials as well.

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Dear Ms. Crissie,

What’s in Chef’s Carb-Safe Breakfast Smoothie? Can squirrels enjoy it too?

Breakfast for a Friend in Blogistan

Dear Squirrel,

Chef makes her Carb-Safe Breakfast Smoothie by blending 1 peeled banana, 3 fresh strawberries, 1 teaspoon of heavy cream, and 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder. She says a small serving would be fine for squirrels, especially after she tops it with crushed macadamias. Bon appétit!

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Photo Credit: PBS

Josh in NYC; David French quotes Malcolm Gladwell; shooter targeted girl who rejected and embarrassed him; school had two armed officers…won safety program award.

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Happy Sunday!