Colorado Shooter

While it is a little too early to say why James Holmes, 24, started a shooting rampage at the opening of a Batman movie, it’s now known he is unconnected with the Tea Party.

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Editor’s Note: An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.

Slate says ABC’s mistake is partly the Internet’s fault.  There are just too many James Holmes’ on Facebook, Twitter and Google for a responsible journalist not to think he wasn’t a member of the Tea Party.

The Internet has trained us to assume that the intimate details of people’s lives must be out there on the Web somewhere, just waiting for us to enter the right Google search term or trawl the right social media platform.

News of the massacre at the Batman screening in Aurora, Colorado this morning sent a thousand journalists (and “citizen journalists”) to their browsers, racing to be the first to uncover the telling detail about the suspect …

“I cannot get over what an online ghost Holmes appears to be,” Ulanoff wrote.

At least Ulanoff came up with nothing. Others came up with something worse—misinformation and mistaken identity. “There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, uh, page, ah, on the Colorado tea party site, talking about him joining the tea party last year,” ABC News’ Brian Ross excitedly informed milions of Good Morning America viewers Friday morning. Ross and the news organization apologized soon after, acknowledging that the report was incorrect.

Conservative sites such as Breitbart.com were predictably outraged by the bogus link, seeing in it a case of liberal media bias. But that indignation is perhaps undermined by Breitbart blogger Joel Pollak’s own unconfirmed “exclusive” headline that Holmes “could be a registered Democrat.”

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It might also turn out that Holmes is a nut.  Tom Mai, a neighbor who actually knew the suspect says Holmes was “shy” and “a loner”. That would explain, among other things, why he lacked a Facebook page, Twitter feed or much of an online track record.

Mai says the mother told him Holmes couldn’t find a job after earning a master’s degree from a public university in California.

Holmes  “was in the process from withdrawing from a doctorate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, according to university spokesman Dan Myers. Holmes began the program last year.”

Aurora Police chief Dan Oates said Holmes’ apartment is booby trapped with a “sophisticated” maze of flammable devices. It could take hours or days for authorities to disarm it.

It sounds like he was living in a world of his own, not any place you would recognize, but the one which the Batman movie depicts. Maybe the Batman didn’t show up at Holmes’ apartment, so he went to the opening premier looking for him. Reports now say he went to the theater dressed as the Joker.

At another level, he might also have felt cheated and confused at the way the world treated him. There is sometimes a tendency to think a job is something that walks up to you right after you walk off the stage with your diploma. Nobody ever explained to kids that there’s a step between. The Washington Post had an eerie story on the subject of unemployed neuroscience PhDs.

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Michelle Amaral wanted to be a brain scientist to help cure diseases. She planned a traditional academic science career: PhD, university professorship and, eventually, her own lab.

But three years after earning a doctorate in neuroscience, she gave up trying to find a permanent job in her field.

Dropping her dream, she took an administrative position at her university, experiencing firsthand an economic reality that, at first look, is counterintuitive: There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs.

That reality runs counter to messages sent by President Obama and the National Science Foundation and other influential groups, who in recent years have called for U.S. universities to churn out more scientists.

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it’s questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists — those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

While this is not to suggest that unemployment “made him do it”, any more than than Space Aliens or other things, it does suggest that Holmes may have been driven to his act by mental illness, personal or financial problems or other reasons not connected with the 2012 political campaign. Life is tough. Success is not a right politicians can promise you. People knew that once.

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Once.

A friend of mine wrote that the great thing about Tolstoy’s War and Peace is that nobody gets what he seems to deserve. “By the end of War and Peace, Nicholas marries Mary and they are both happy. Pierre marries Natasha, and they, too, are happy. Russia defeats France, and they are happy. But not everyone is happy.”

Life introduces the element of the random. Some of the characters finish up well from pure blind luck.  But some of the blackguards prosper despite everything.  And “And Petya, poor sweet Petya, dies in combat and breaks his parents’ hearts”.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the false ABC news report is that they expected life to be just like a narrative of their own making. They expected a Tea Party villain at a shooting, just perhaps as Holmes expected the world would treat him better than it did.  And boy, were they both surprised. In actuality only Batman really lives in a movie. All the rest of us live in some other place, though some of us are trying their best to get away.


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