Saturday, December 15, 2012

We have been through this too many times…

These were the words of a visibly shaken Barack Obama yesterday as he fought back tears and parts of his face visibly trembled while he spoke. He was so emotional that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer appeared almost moved in his post-comment comments. Some will no doubt blame the president for failing to show the steely resolve befitting a strong Commander-in-Chief. As Antonio Damasio and others have demonstrated, though, lack of emotional input in judgment and decision making can be an even greater problem than uncontrolled emotionality. Which, by the way, shouldn't inspire much confidence in Angela Merkel's leadership style as described in Der Spiegel ("A Cold Heart for Europe: Merkel's Dispassionate Approach to the Euro Crisis").

I did note once that President Obama is probably the closest to a “normal” human being to claw his way to the White House in a long time. And his act, like Messi’s, will be very hard to follow. Unfortunately, one of these two exceptional people faces crippling structural constrains on his performance; the other merely has to jump over the legs of defenders trying hard to cripple him.

Yesterday, there was a similar incident in China where an armed man attacked children in front of a primary school. There was a key difference, though. The madman was wielding a knife, not automatic firearms. He was able to stab or slash 22 children and one adult before he was subdued, but they all survived. Such attacks have become quite common in China, which apparently suffers the common stresses of civilization – but so far has been spared the sometimes high price of freedom.

The incident in China also exposes an obvious flaw in the argument of the gun lobby and militia fundamentalists in the US: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” It’s quite clear a change in which variable caused the vastly different outcomes in the two cases. But the failure to make some of these connections is a psychiatric problem, not just a matter of feeble reasoning.

For all his emotionality, Obama made a finely calibrated pronouncement regarding the need for any legal/political action in the aftermath if yet another tragedy – he cautiously called for “meaningful action,” whatever that may mean. And there was a stark contrast in the way British channels and CNN covered the incident – the Brits (the BBC and Sky News) did ask questions related to the mass-marketing of firearms. But as the BBC were rebroadcasting Obama’s comments, they ran a crawler announcing that Sir Alex had made an epochal statement – he had opined that teams’ customers should not watch games from behind a fence, as long as battalions of police could be deployed to restrain them. So the BBC have suffered lapses of judgment on issues well beyond the handling of the pedophilia investigation – and even the quality of their famed documentaries has visibly deteriorated over the last few years. As with Blitzer, the shell-shock of reporting on too many tragedies may have taken a toll.