Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Right" Idea, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Price

Calvin Massey at the Faculty Lounge summarizes an NPR story about how peers and supervisors at Walter Reed Medical Center perceived Major Hasan in years, months, and weeks before he massacred 13 American soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. At least some officials expressed concern that should Hasan be deployed, he might "engage in precisely the murderous behavior he exhibited at Fort Hood."

The reasons nothing was done? There are three, according to NPR:
First, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

Second, some of Hasan's supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn't have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be "discriminating" against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs.

Third, the officials involved in deliberations [official meetings about what to do with respect to the "Hasan problem"] this year reportedly were not aware, as some top Walter Reed officials were, that intelligence analysts had been tracking Hasan's e-mails with at least one suspected Islamic extremist since December 2008.
Let's do some analysis here. Number one is neither an excuse nor a justification; all number one means is that officials knew the system required revision. This hardly exonerates their failure to question its results.

Number three is irrelevant under any reasonable conception of how the world works: knowledge that an authority is conducting an investigation should make one less likely to reach a final conclusion, not more. Put another way, absent knowledge that others were examining and perhaps handling the problem, officials at Walter Reed were under a duty to act.

That leaves number two. Loathsome, shameful, guilty number two.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not understanding what you find wrong with number 2. Please elaborate.

11/12/2009 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but can anyone tell me why I was almost tackled by Secret Service today in the Donor Lobby?

11/13/2009 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post exemplifies how revolting some of the offered post-Fort Hood analyses really are.

11/13/2009 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also curious about the officers at Boalt today. What was up with that?

11/13/2009 5:31 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Well since the President is traveling to Asia, and the VP is doing homeless shelter dinners in DC, that leaves three possibilities.

1) Someone threatened the Prez or Veep.
2) Someone pawned off counterfeit bills at Zeb.
3) Some foreign dignitary's in town.

11/13/2009 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that they were Secret Service agents. Some of them looked like U.S. Marshals... but there were a fair number of them.

11/13/2009 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:11 here. I'm still waiting on a response from Patrick as to what made reason #2 so guilty and shameful. Had the authorities prematurely labeled Hasan as a terrorist without stable evidence, they would have been deemed racist and discriminatory. So I don't really think #2 is that shameful of a reason. Does it suck that he slipped through the cracks? Yes. But can you imagine if he was innocent and had been disciplined on shaky evidence? The military has to cover its own ass too.

11/14/2009 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The government agents were there to protect a White House's drug policy official who was participating in a symposium at Boalt.

I agree with 2:25. Patrick, I agree with your criticism of reason #1 and to a lesser extent reason #3, but your "analysis" of reason #2 makes little sense. You really think it was "loathsome" and "shameful" for officials to require clear evidence before making an almost assuredly controversial decision? I guess hindsight is 20/20.

11/14/2009 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Can we talk about how superb the BLF Auction was?

11/14/2009 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's say that deep down a part of me believes that all members of group X are stupid. I wish I didn't believe that, I think it's empirically wrong to believe that, but I can't shake the belief. In that situation, when I meet a member of group X and my instincts tell me that he's stupid, I'm going to seriously question those instincts, moreso than I would with other people, not because of PC dishonesty or anything else "rabidly liberal" but because I actually think my instincts might well be wrong. Such behavior on my part is only unreasonable if the obvious truth is that all members of group X are stupid, and I just won't admit it to myself because of PC dishonesty.

Patrick, you aren't saying that all Muslims, all devout Muslims, or even all Muslims who believe the war on terror is a war against Islam, are mass murderers. And I'm not trying to twist your words. But I think the basic impulse behind #2 was not a dishonest impulse, it was a confused impulse. I don't think there was anything particularly loathsome or shameful about it. It was a tragic accident that resulted from honest-minded behavior. What am I missing?

11/15/2009 8:36 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Sorry, 4:11/2:05. I'm not quite as on top of things this semester as I have been in the past.

Here is what bothered me about reason number two: it means officials would have acted differently had Hasan not been Muslim. If true, that is disturbing. I admit "loathsome" and "shameful" are inflammatory words, but I think we can all agree that it was a failure of the reason we try to place conscious checks upon our biases first place — we want to kill the seeds of antisocial behavior. The fear of racism in this case may have allowed a racist to go on a killing spree.

I do agree with almost everything 8:36 has to say (see the title of the post) with respect to rooting out prejudice or bias. I cannot, however, agree with the characterization of the shooting as a tragic accident resulting from honest-minded behavior. The shooting was a murderous rampage caused by a deliberate and homicidal mind. The NPR article made it sound like officials at Walter Reed were worried that precisely this type of attack would happen. So, for me, it resembles not merely something that should have been prevented, but something already in motion that should have been stopped. Although I fully recognize the force of 5:51's 20/20 comment, it's still hard for me to escape the conclusion that those officials — expert psychologists, let's not forget — should bear a sense of responsibility.

11/15/2009 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:36 wasn't characterizing the shooting as a "tragic accident," and you know it. He or she was characterizing reason #2 as a tragic accident.

Your rhetoric aside, it is fair to say that "The fear of racism in this case may have allowed a racist to go on a killing spree." But this sounds to a lot of us like, well, a tragic accident, or a tragic error. Maybe the key question here is: If something else had led those expert psychologists to culpable error, something other than a desire to be fair-minded toward Muslims, would you find it equally loathsome and shameful?

11/15/2009 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can we get a thread on the two clerkship/ranking proposals.

11/15/2009 5:01 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Like this one? Or this one?

11/15/2009 5:06 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

5:01, I'm going to the meeting tomorrow, and unless someone there objects, I'll re-cap it and open a discussion then.

3:41, I'm not sure I completely understand the question but I think the answer is "yes." If psychologists had worried about Hasan committing violent rape, did nothing for fear of persecuting racists, and if Hasan then went on a violent raping spree, I would be equally upset.

11/15/2009 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the links, but now that the two proposals are actually down on paper I think a thread discussing them could be helpful.



11/15/2009 7:30 PM  

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