Being an idiot does not preclude you being a politician.

Earlier today, New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed that he did, in fact, tweet pictures of his underwear-clad bulge to a woman. He also confessed to more “inappropriate” (but seemingly consensual) internet exchanges with other women, though he never met any of these women, he didn’t know their names, he hasn’t had sex with anyone outside of his marriage, etc.

If I were his wife, I’d probably be pretty angry that my husband was tweeting such pictures to strangers on the internet and then lied about it, but as a U.S. citizen, I don’t care. I’ve blogged about this before, I just don’t want to know about any of this. Weiner is not my representative, but even if he were, I can’t see why this matters. I’m pretty sure that lewd tweeting doesn’t violate any part of the job description of being in Congress.

Our representatives and senators are all civil servants. Their job is to represent the views of their constituents when making laws. They might have their hands in the pockets of lobbyists and big business, and there may be way too much partisanship in politics for our government to actually function this way, but that’s what their job is – to represent the voters’ views on political issues.

They aren’t supposed to be moral figures, and even if they were, the American public has weird ideas about what constitutes a moral violation anyway. We sit back while they sling mud, lie for votes, take bribes, spend excessively, grow over-inflated egos and spew self-righteousness, but the only thing that ever stops them is “sex scandals.” (Case in point.) I have already seen blogs popping up about whether or not Rep. Weiner will be re-elected, if his career is over, etc.

Of course, this is also a media issue. Sex sells and “scandal” sells and so that’s what we are inundated with in the headlines, having to dig deeper to read stories about actual issues that affect us lowly citizens.

Yes, when you are in the public eye, it is dumb to tweet semi-naked pictures of yourself to strangers, but if we’re going to condemn public figures for their immorality, shouldn’t we also condemn them for greed? Or misanthropy? Or, dare I say, vanity?

Re-election campaign photo?


People Kill People

Names have been cropped.

Much as it pains me to admit because I think the woman is the exact opposite of what is truly needed in a government official, I don’t think Sarah Palin really had much to do with the shooting in Tuscon this weekend. Even with the awful map that she promptly took down from her website.

There’s nothing the news media loves more than a tragedy. It’s a time when anchorpeople can try out their “solemn voices” and they can interview people who went to elementary school with the cousin of a victim and pretend that they have anything to say other than what is obvious: when people die from the gunfire of a mentally unstable person, it’s awful.

And it shouldn’t happen.

The worst part of the media coverage is all the speculation about “why?” and “how?”.

It’s times like these that I want to start passing out Hume tracts. Let me sum up: According to Scottish philosopher and empiricist David Hume, there is no such thing as causation. It’s not real. We don’t experience it. There is only constant conjunction, and we human beings try to explain things by causation because it’s easier for us than to admit that there’s really no infallible way of understanding or predicting any of this.

The alleged gunman (Jared Loughner, 22) in this weekend’s attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was known for having bizarre, nonsensical outbursts in classes at his community college. He smoked marijuana and salvia. He was a stickler for grammar. He found skulls aesthetically pleasing. He liked conspiracy theories. He was known to be mentally unstable and possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic.[1] He had access to guns.

The media likes to lump all of these things together as causes, playing into the stereotype that being a little morbid or skeptical of reality makes you a violent lunatic capable of murder. That he had access to guns I would say we can reasonably call a cause, even with the Humean stipulation, because any idiot will tell you that getting shot can kill you. That he was prone to crazy outbursts and threatened to kill people I think we can reasonably consider a warning sign, though having schizophrenia (or whatever label you want to stamp on him) does not necessarily entail violence. That he smoked marijuana has a lot less bearing on the matter, unless a) he was smoking something that was a bit more potent than marijuana, or b) that he had smoked enough marijuana in his short lifespan that he suffered severe brain damage.

But the media doesn’t distinguish and stamps a big “cause” sign on all of these things.

It doesn’t work that way.

We’ll never know all the contributing factors. We can never really identify a true series of causes because we aren’t omniscient, but it worries me that we don’t even separate between reasonable conjunctions and completely contingent correlations. The fact that the obvious contributing factor – access to a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and extended clips[2] – is being lumped with a fondness for conspiracy theories really troubles me.

If we were truly interested in preventing things like this from happening, we’d at least be logical about this. Nearly 12 years ago Marilyn Manson’s name got unfairly lumped in with the Columbine High School massacre, when the fact that the highly constant conjunction that gunfire kills people is never dealt with in legislation. I can only conclude that lawmakers don’t actually want to prevent people, including children, from being shot to death.

You tell me why.

[1]I don’t know how accurate that bit of speculation is, and I think perhaps the discourse of “mental illness” needs to be re-examined.

[2]I should probably note that I’m not opposed to gun ownership for hunting, but I live in a city where errant gunfire is a legitimate risk, and I don’t think civilians need to own handguns. I find it troubling that people who cling to the 2nd Amendment refuse to treat the Constitution as a living document, thus missing the original point of it entirely. (I’m looking at you Justice Scalia.)