Off Limits

Pointing the finger: Since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold rudely took their own lives after mowing down twelve other students and a teacher at Columbine High, thereby denying Americans of their right to revenge, it seems that everyone is looking for someone or something to hold responsible. The blame game got ugly last week, when just about everyone--including the state board of education--turned on Hollywood; several prominent Hollywood stars blamed psychiatrists; and a group of women in Jefferson County blamed, well, their neighbors.

"The connection between murder in our schools and elements of the mass culture is now beyond dispute," writes Colorado Commissioner of Education William J. Maloney in a preachy, four-page diatribe signed by the rest of the board. "Only those who profit from this filth and their dwindling band of apologists deny the evidence of violence, hatred and sadism routinely found in films, video games and the like. We believe it is no longer acceptable for an entertainment industry that spends billions to influence the behavior of children to deny that their efforts have consequences or that they have no accountability for sowing the seeds of tragedy."

To replace this "sewage," Maloney suggests that perhaps we should abolish the separation of church and state and "remember, respect, and unashamedly take pride in the fact that our schools, like our country, found their origin and draw their strength from the faith-based morality that is at the heart of our national character. Today," he says, "our schools have become so fearful of affirming one religion or one value over another that they have banished them all."

Maloney doesn't say which religion (perhaps his?) he would like to bring back into the schools, but it likely would not be the Church of Scientology, which boasts among its ranks several well-known purveyors of Maloney's "violence, hatred and sadism" and has used the shootings to promote its own agenda.

Calling itself the Citizen Commission on Human Rights International, a Scientology-backed group showed up at the American Psychiatric Association's annual convention in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to blame psychiatrists for promoting and prescribing the kinds of "mind-altering" drugs that both Harris and Springfield, Oregon, high school mass murderer Kip Kinkel were taking when they went berserk.

"We keep hearing the blame assigned to everything from movies to video games to Marilyn Manson," said actress Juliette Lewis, who protested along with Lisa Marie Presley and Kirstie Alley. "But when a kid commits some senseless, violent act, why isn't the first question we ask 'Was he on psychiatric drugs?'" If Lewis sounds a little defensive, maybe its because her film credits include four of the most violent movies of the last few years: Kalifornia, Natural Born Killers, From Dusk Till Dawn and--you guessed it--The Basketball Diaries, the much-maligned Leonardo DiCaprio flick that supposedly was a favorite of Harris's and Klebold's. (Klebold, by the way, did not need any medication for his part in the rampage.)

But the most surprising bit of blame came from the leader of a group of about twenty Jefferson County women calling themselves "Awakening the Mother Bear." Organized in the aftermath of the Columbine killings to find ways to raise more money for the Jefferson County School District, the Mother Bears are pushing for a mill levy on the November ballot that would raise $23 million. "We need to shame Jeffco voters by saying, 'See what happens when you don't fund your schools,'" says den leader Meredith Vaughn. Jeffco voters haven't passed a mill levy in fifteen years, partially because the county is home to the oldest population per capita and the highest number of voters without school-age children in Colorado, according to Jeffco state representative Ed Perlmutter.

The school district had originally proposed to cut $1.2 million out of the budget for middle-school counselors but immediately took that off the list of possible reductions after the Columbine shootings. "Every year, we've had massive cutbacks and we've gotten overcrowded classes. Columbine had the highest class sizes in the state," says Vaughn, who hopes to take her case to Oprah Winfrey's show. "There's no way of identifying at-risk kids in such large classes."

A Chile welcome: Judging by the enthusiastic applause he received at the Auditorium Theater last week--not to mention the adoring coverage in the Post--Henry Kissinger is back on top again. His image buffed and polished since the dark days when he served as Richard Nixon's sidekick and apologist, the former secretary of state was the final installment in this year's Denver Distinguished Lectures Series sponsored by the University of Denver. After a glowing introduction by an AT&T suit, the wily doctor explained that he was on record as opposing the war in the Balkans but figured it was time to support the president anyway. Kept out of sight were a handful of protesters who wanted to needle Kissinger about the Nixon administration's warm embrace of Augusto Pinochet, the now-disgraced Chilean general who led the junta that overthrew that country's democratically elected (but socialist) government in 1973. After the lecture, one audience member did try to ask a question about Chile, but her microphone mysteriously went dead.

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