Rothman At-Large

The Orlando Massacre: How Books & Tech-Era Empathy Building Might Have Saved 49 Lives

June 13, 2016

The Donald was predictable in the wake of the Orlando horrors, when 49 people died and 53 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. He tweeted:


Donald J. Trump


Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!

12:43 PM - 12 Jun 2016


Do we really need Trump-style “toughness,” however, against Muslims, complete with a ban on their coming here?


Instead we need stricter laws against powerful weapons, more money for mental health counseling, faster identification of potential beneficiaries of therapy, and smarter homeland security in general. (The killer was even able to work for a private security firm.) Yes, those should be the main precautions.


But how about something else—a concerted effort to use libraries and schools to promote empathy in American society, including empathy toward people with different religious, political or sexual preferences? That, in turn, should mean more encouragement of reading, especially of certain books. Check out The K-12 and economic cases for a national digital library endowment on the LibraryCity site, and you’ll find detailed references to the powers of the right kind of books as empathy builders. Also of interest might be Cell phone book clubs: A new way for libraries to promote literacy, technology and community.


I’m not saying that this particular killer,  Omar Mateen, 29, a gay-hater born to Muslim immigrants, would have joined such a club on his own and turned into a law-abiding, community-minded soul. But given his love of technology, think about a different scenario. What if Mateen had undergone mental health counseling soon enough, including bibliotherapy (here and here), perhaps along with others in a cell phone book club targeted at individuals with similar problems?


Mateen did not just venerate radical Islam. He also loved his cell phone and social media, probably far more important to him than the Koran. What if society had reached out to him in a tech-savvy way, with bibliotherapy as part of this? It isn’t enough just to wage propaganda wars against ISIS online. Rather we also need to consider why maladjusted people like Mateen are susceptible in the first place to radical Islam (quite different from the peaceful mainstream version) and act accordingly.


Bibliotherapy, cell phone book clubs and the rest would hardly be definite preventatives. But perhaps this hate-filled bigot would have been less likely to go on to kill 49 gay people. He may not have stopped being a hater; but if nothing else, he might not have been so eager to listen to ISIS or the blood-thirsty demons inside him.

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R.I.P. Sadie - The Sheltie Who Belonged in an Austen Novel

May 30, 2016

Sadie never made it into a Jane Austen novel, not even a modern e-book sequel, and that’s too bad; for she would have fit right in. My sister’s pure-bred Sheltie was the consummate lady, just as the photo of her with me would suggest. Notice the more dignified of the two of us?


Most of all, Sadie showed her innate refinement at mealtimes. Never did Sadi threaten to leap up for the forbidden. Instead she would quietly put her snout in Dorothy’s lap when she wanted to share food. About her worst offense was to bark on hearing Dorothy empty the dishwasher or tear aluminium foil from a roll, and always, always she was gracious with visiting dogs or her uncle. I was unabashed in my fondness of Sadie and twice posted threats on Facebook to puppy-nap her. My wife and I would have loved owning a dog. But Carly is allergic to them—her unsuspecting Golden Retriever sent her to the emergency room: my wife almost died. So Sadie was our surrogate pet.


Sadie was a member of the canine gentry to the end. The last few days at my sister’s house, she was too weak to climb the stairs at all, much less with her usual grace, and Dorothy let her sleep downstairs. On Saturday Dorothy took Sadie to the vet, who, like my sister and brother-in-law, recognized the need for the inevitable. Sadie died at 14, close to 100 in dog years. I’m confident that a decorum-minded creature like her would have agreed with the decision.


But back to Jane Austen. Just for the fun of it, I searched Pride and Prejudice for mention of a dog of any kind. Nothing popped up. Why? Perhaps the Bennetts were too wrapped up in each other and in social climbing to bother caring for one. Oh, well, a pug shows up in Mansfield Park, thereby inspiring an academic’s spirited condemnation of the owner, Lady Bertram: “Pathetically bred out of any doggy usefulness as hunter or protector, the pug also inadvertently points up the loss of wildness and purposeful living that man’s meddlesome dominance and forced breeding have caused not only the animal kingdom but societies of imperialized humans as well.” Ouch. What to say? Dorothy is not ready for another dog now, but if one enters her life again, it just might be a shelter dog, and maybe even a mutt. That’s fine with me. Forget breeding and pedigree: let judgments of character be dog by dog—not such a bad idea to apply to humans, too.

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Want Kent State II? Then Pander to The Donald

May 4, 2016

Ohio National Guardsmen killed Bill Schroeder, an ex-Eagle Scout, 46 years ago this week at Kent State University. As a reporter for The Lorain Journal, his hometown daily, I covered the death of this ROTC cadet


Do you realize what America was like back then? 


People actually phoned up our factory-town newspaper and praised the guardsmen for killing young Schroeder? 


The then-governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, might as well have pulled a trigger. It wasn't just his mishandling of the Ohio National Guard.  "They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes," Rhodes said of the Kent State anti-war protesters. "They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America."


Rhodes himself is dead now, but Donald Trump is very much alive, and, in fact, yesterday, he won the Republican primary in Indiana, causing Ted Cruz to drop out, and I can't help but wonder about Kent State had The Donald been governor on May 4, 1970. 


The death toll, for all we know, might have been 14 or even 40, not four. Before the killings, protesters had burned down the ROTC building. Bill Schroeder hadn't a thing to do with this despicable act. Still, what of even the student who did? Of course arson deserves harsh punishment. But should property in this case---or at least the sentiments associated with its protection---have come before life? 


I haven't the slightest doubt that President Trump, the billionaire developer, would be a lot more trigger-happy in these situations than would President Clinton or President Sanders. What more need we know about Trump and his famous "toxic temperament"? Not to mention his offer to pay the legal bills of a thuggish supporter who sucker-punched a foe. If you love the image of wrestling fans smashing chairs over each other's heads in a bloody free-for-all---I'm not the first to conjure this up---then Donald Trump is your man.


You can imagine, then, how I feel when I read of journalists and politicians pandering to Trump or even thinking about it. I can understand opportunistic politicians like New York Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doing so. But journalists?  How could you? I quote BuzzFeed's Kyle Blaine:


"Staffers at the five major television networks are grappling with what role their organizations may have played in amplifying Donald Trump’s successful campaign of insults, generalizations about minority groups, and at times flat-out lies.


"Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has--or hasn’t--been challenged on their air."


For now, it looks as if the Democrats will win in November, but who'd have thought Trump would get this far? We may yet see another Kent State--in fact, a slew of them. Elections don't just have consequences. They can have lethal ones.


The word is that Trump is pretty chummy with regulars at Morning Joe. I won't prejudge here, but perhaps Joe and Mika, whose interviewing skills I admire even if I don't necessarily feel the same about all their guests, can ask The Donald for his take on Kent State. Trump may well go mainstream and try to ward off the critics with a bland answer. But just for the record, I'd love to know how he says he would have acted in Jim Rhodes's place.

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