Friday, April 19, 2013

A brief personal coda.  I'm reminded that the last time I was in Boston, we stayed with friends in Watertown.  Even that was more than a decade ago. They still live there, and teach at universities in Boston.  We knew them from Pittsburgh, and we hope they got through all this okay.  Update: We've heard from them, and they did.   

Looking back on these posts, somewhere between a third and a half of what was said was wrong.  At least according to the narratives now.
Now things go into the longer process.  Already conflicting information on the suspects, though the older is getting really bad press.  Already politics is entering, on how the suspect is to be prosecuted--the Obama administration is insisting on civilian courts, and I think commentators are right that Boston public will insist on it.

It turns out that these guys did live on Norfolk St. in Cambridge, very close to where I lived, though that was years before either of them was born.  Apparently it is still a predominantly a Portuguese neigbhorhood.  The buildings, the layout of the wood frames,the colors, very much like the buildings where I lived in a first floor apartment on Columbia St. 

So it adds to the strangeness for me, to feel connected and yet distant.  The people I knew in Cambridge in those years are mostly long gone, and I expect that the place is both different and familiar. 

As for how this all played out, the first such event in the era of ubiquitious cell phones and social media, there were pluses and minuses, and in his statement President Obama warned against rush to judgment against entire groups. 

But right now crowds are spontaneously gathering on Boston Common, and I expect in Harvard Square, which is itself a repudiation of the terror theory.  People not afraid to gather in public.

All in all, the resilience and ability to cooperate, both of ordinary people and public servants, has been heartening.
There are so many police vehicles and so many people on the street in Watertown cheering, it's like a nighttime parade.
People in Watertown have come out of their homes, lining the street, cheering the police as they leave.
Suspect is alive and in custody, NBC is reporting.
At the very least the police forces have the boat surrounded, and as night falls they have night vision.  There are conflicting reports on whether the suspect is still alive, perhaps even talking to police.  Now it's not certain there was a fire.  So nothing much is clear except they think they have the suspect cornered.  A resident noted that thing are very quiet.
It's about 12 hours after I last posted and essentially nothing happened until the last few minutes.  It looks as though the suspect is cornered in a boat in a driveway.  It is just outside the original 20 block perimenter in Watertown.  One answer to why they were fairly confident he was still here is that he was wounded in the original firefight.  Still, they were almost ready to give up the search in this area.

A tip from a woman who saw a ladder that was moved, blood on the tarp over the boat, and then helicopters got a heat signature--copters hadn't been able to fly most of the time because of low ceiling.

There were sounds of shots and now a report that there is a fire on the boat, which has gasoline aboard.  The general reporting is that this is coming to an end.

Also a detail: the order to stay in your homes in Watertown was carried by robocalls, so people in the middle of the night got a call.

The huge military/law enforcement presence seems to be now concerned that the suspect could still have a bomb, even a suicide bomb.  His older brother had a device strapped on him when he was shot.

I see there's some new information: the older brother was out of the country for six months last year.  There is a sister in New Jersey, who may have been bullied by the older brother.  The father is abroad.  The mother seems to be claiming this is all an FI plot.  Others are being questioned, roommates or former roommates of the suspect.

Flash bangs were thrown into the boat, to stun the suspect.  That might be the source of the fire.
8 am in Boston, as the "shelter in place" reccommendation is extended to the city of Boston, as well as the other towns.  So essentially Greater Boston has stopped everything.  Nobody is supposed to leave their homes, or let anyone into them.  This may be the first shelter in place order for a major American city ever.

A police spokesperson says this may go on for hours.

Several of the NBC outside commentators are really going with the Chechnya connection, and the connection to terrorism there.  They seem to be ignoring the information that neither was born in Chechnya and the suspect at large has been in America since he was nine.  There's no information released about them leaving the U.S.  So it's jumping to conclusions.

If there's any reason now that this guy is still in Watertown, they're not saying.  Nobody has mentioned either where they lived in Cambridge, but that might be because the police and FBI are there.

It's after 5 am here.  I'm fading, so pretty soon I may stop talking to myself in blog form and get some sleep.
Boston Police etc. are warning people away from Norfolk St. in Cambridge, maybe a block or two from where I used to live in Cambridge.  It may be where they're detonating a bomb, maybe something else.  A dangerous situation they're saying. 

Now they're reporting that these brothers have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, since they were children.  Though they were born in Russia, it seems they grew up here.  I'd thought before that if they lived in Cambridge and weren't well to do, they might live in the area near where I lived, East Cambridge, and that's where Norfolk St. basically is.
The whole MBTA is shut down.  So is Amtrak from Boston to Providence.  So people waking up in the Boston area are waking up to this.  I think I heard someone say that the violence last night started in Central Square, which is very near where I lived in Cambridge.  I bought groceries every Saturday at the Purity Supreme supermarket there.  I'm not sure why an MIT police officer would respond to a robbery attempt in Central Square, so maybe I heard wrong. 

As this goes on, my visual memory is returning of these places. 

Boston Police just announced they've conducting a controlled explosion in Cambridge.  Earlier reports said that as the suspects fled Cambridge they threw bombs out of the car. 

Now it seems the guy on the run had been living in Cambridge for several years, even went to high school there.

Police still assembling, and apparently military assets assembling in the mall parking lot in Watertown.

AP is reporting the bombing suspects are from Chechnya in Russia.  Pete Williams is being quoted as saying they are apparently Chechnan who had been living in Turkey.  NBC is not yet confirming this, but a commentator slipped up and mentioned it, mentioning also the Islamicist terrorism in Chechnya.
At this point it seems Cambridge and Boston in general is shut down and locked down.  The universities and schools across Boston are closed.  People are literally being kept off the streets.  Incredible.

Pete Williams is reporting that they are brothers, 19 and 20.  The one at large is Cambridge resident.  Tsarnaez is the name being identified.  No nationality given, but repeated that they've been in the U.S. for a year or so.  The one at large is 19.

Less emphasis on the idea that police suspect they know where he is.  A lot of public transit is shut.  NBC estimates 320,000 in the area around Watertown are being told to stay home.
It's almost 3 a.m. here, 6 am there, and the start of the day.  But Watertown is locked down--no transit, no businesses opening, nobody going out or in.  Pete Williams is reporting that the police believe they know the building where the guy at large is holed up.  That answers my question, which is how do they know that he is still in Watertown.  He got away reportedly by flooring an SUV and breaking through police lines.  It would seem he would drive as far as he could.  But they believe they know where he is.

These guys were heavily armed with guns and explosives.  Nobody knows what the guy on the run has with him.

I've been away from the TV for a half hour or so, not much has changed, and the print media via goggle news seems to have caught up.
Pete Williams reports that although the identities of the suspects are not confirmed, the FBI thinks they know who they are--both with overseas military training, who have been in the U.S. for a year or so. 

It's approaching 5 a.m. in Watertown.  These are all places near where I used to live.  But a lot of people there probably have no idea what has gone on overnight, and the warnings not to answer their doors is something they haven't heard.  They're also considering not reopening the transit system this morning, as long as the second guy is at large.
One detail I saw on a report: that in the Watertown firefight, one of these guys threw a bomb towards police and shouted "Fire in the hole!"  That's a phrase popularized in the ongoing TV series Justified.  In the pilot, a white supremacist shouts this as he shoots a rocketlauncher at a black church.  His job in coal mines was explosives, and before setting off the explosives in the mine he would shout Fire in the hole. 
It's about 1:20 am here in CA.  A couple of hours ago I turned on the TV to see the replay of the Boston memorial service and President Obama's great speech (which I'd seen on my computer), and was greeted with flashing lights and chaos in Watertown, Mass.  A chase that apparently began at MIT resulted in a firefight in Watertown.  Right now they're playing home video of that firefight and explosions between two suspects and police.  The gunfire is interlaced with barking dogs and birds calling.

I've been watching all this in real time.  The police are now announcing that one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing identified last evening with photos from the FBI was involved in the firefight and is now at large in Watertown.  One of the suspects was killed in the firefight.  The officers looked pretty worried, and were warning residents to stay indoors.  In reference to the photos released earlier, it is the young man in the black cap who was killed, and the one in the white cap who is on the run.

It's very weird, watching this unfold in real time in the middle of the night.  Through all the TV blather I've also been monitoring online.  The New York Times actually had the most precise story from an eyewitness to the firefight. 

This started with an MIT officer shot and killed when investigating a distrubance complaint, possibly a car-jacking, a robbery at a 7-Eleven.  The dots are yet to be assembled, and the situation is ongoing.  Pete Williams of NBC, who has been the most reliable reporter on this entire story from the bombing onward, suggests that this all started when the two guys decided to get out of town and car-jacked a vehicle.  It may be that the whole photo thing was the FBI's way of flushing out the suspect.  That's my speculation, not his.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gutless Check

On Wednesday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate forced a 60 vote supermajority on gun regulation legislation.  The compromise bipartisan bill to expand background checks lost by 5 votes, though it had a majority.

In response, President Obama called it a shameful day in Washington, in an angry statement in the White House rose garden, surrounded by parents of gun violence victims, and gun violence victims themselves, like former Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords.  He said the NRA and other violence promoters  “willfully lied about the bill” in order to scare gutless senators into opposing even a straight vote on it.

 Gabrielle Giffords wrote an oped published in the New York Times Thursday edition:

"I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association..."

"Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on."

"I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences."

"Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way."

Martin's Dream Deferred

Martin Richards died at the age of 8.  His little sister, who loved to dance, has lost a leg, and may lose the other.  His mother has a severe brain injury.  All of this the result of one of the homemade bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon--bombs that did little damage to property, but were made to inflict pain and horrible damage to human beings.  Made to hurt people.

When will Martin Richards' dream come true?  Not today, when it is likely now that the cowards of the U.S. Senate will not even allow votes on gun regulation measures.  They're using the Boston tragedy as cover for their cowardice.

Does it matter that one eight year old was killed by a crude bomb, while 20 six year olds were killed by the bullets of a high tech rifle?  It does not matter to those children.  As a society we do a great deal to protect against such a bomb.  But our Congress is about to decide to do nothing to protect children against guns, especially those that are at least as efficient at hurting people as one homemade bomb, though the guns at Sandy Hook were more lethal.

The U.S. at all levels of government spends immense sums in trying to prevent terrorist bombs from exploding.  Thousands of people are trained and deployed around the world.  Those bombs and components that can be outlawed, are outlawed.  People have to make their own bombs.  Unfortunately, the ingredients are not uncommon--they mostly all have other legitimate functions.  Guns are lethal weapons to begin with.

Nobody gets to openly bring a bomb to a public place, to a political rally.  But last week a group of mothers demonstrating in support of gun regulations were surrounded by men with guns.  Legally.  

All guns and bullets are dangerous to begin with.  They go off by accident or by stupidity or innocence.  They   are lethal weapons that are too easy to use in anger, or to intimidate. It used to be common sense to regulate how they are used and where they can be carried.

Some guns and bullets have only one function: to kill as many people in as short a time as possible, which they did at Sandy Hook when they killed 20 six year olds and several adults in five minutes of nearly continuous firing, by a coward who brought unthinkable firepower provided legally by his mother to face defenseless children at an elementary school.

No more hurting people.  Too much to ask, Martin.  Our leaders can't even agree on doing something just so that fewer people will be hurt and maimed and killed.  Anywhere, anytime.  Tens of thousands of people, many hundreds of children killed and maimed by guns, every year.

We don't need terrorists.  We've got the GOPer Congress.

Rest in Peace, Martin.  Those of us still alive have to keep working towards your dream.  In our own lives, and as citizens.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Marathon

photo by  Aaron Tang/wikipedia
Over the weekend and early Monday, the news was that the bipartisan support  in the U.S. Senate for a watered-down version of the least controversial gun regulation proposal was breaking down.  It was further evidence that the central government of the most powerful nation in the world can't even enact a measure that in any sensible society would have been on the books for a century.  All last week the news was about the heroic efforts to get Congress just to pass some laws that would indicate that we live in a civilized society, not to mention save people from horrific violence and death.  All that effort for what should be automatic, and with far more complex and threatening problems not only unresolved but not seriously addressed.  Not exactly inspiring.

Then came the bombs at the Boston Marathon, and to the possibly fatal dereliction of duty in Washington, the overwhelming power of big money to swamp democracy, poison the present and slaughter the future, a few different features of the American present came forward to contest this fatalism.

On the suddenly bloody streets of Boston, there was competence.  The bombs exploded near the finish line of the Marathon, which happens to be just a few blocks from where I used to work every day in the then-offices of the then-Boston Phoenix.  No central city in America is blessed with more or better medical resources in a compact area, and the Marathon itself had a triage and treatment tent already set up nearby.  But beyond that, the competence and courage, of EMTs and other personnel, including instant volunteers, as well as those who set up response procedures, speaks well for our capabilities in future emergencies, whatever their cause.  Skills, discipline, the temperament to use those skills: the calling to learn them and use them.

And there was kindness.  People who rushed towards the horrific scene in order to help survivors. Runners who kept running to the hospitals, to give blood.  Bostonians who volunteered their homes for the many out-of-towners (including international visitors) in Boston for the Marathon, who couldn't get back to hotels zoned off in the crime scene blocks.

If anything is going to save any of us, it will be the competence and kindness of the non-rich, and the courage to apply both.  "You'd do the same for me" rises to the occasion again. Not just kindness, but to be impelled to help, to anticipate how to help.

 There are less noble forces at work right now, sacrificing the poor, the old and the otherwise helpless and unconnected non-rich.  That ignored war against the anonymous is only going to get bigger and worse as all kind of things tighten.  But these countervailing qualities are still alive, at least in vivid emergencies.  Maybe in this marathon emergency we can build on that.