Tag Archives: Boston Marathon Bombing

There is nothing wrong with Tsarnaev’s face

Does this picture of Hitler make you like him?
Does this picture of Hitler make you like him?
I dislike Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s, that dislike contingent on his guilt yet to be proven (but very likely, it seems). His picture on the cover of Rolling Stone makes a point that struck me during the mayhem in Boston, and it is a good point. Those who reacted to this photograph negatively are seeing this situation in the first order, missing the point, missing the nuance. They are operating at the bodice-ripping romance novel level of thinking, not even the semi-complex Hercule Poirot level, of thinking. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts cop who released the “real” pictures of Tsarnaev violated the rules of his job, and he’ll presumably take some heat for that (though I couldn’t possibly care less about that) but more importantly he acted poorly and in a way that sets us back, as a country, in our thinking about terrorism.

Hitler never grew out of his Terrible Twos, apparently
Hitler never grew out of his Terrible Twos, apparently
Consider Adolf Hitler. I went looking on Google Images for a picture of Adolf Hitler to see if I could find a picture in which he didn’t look like the absolute monster that he was. There were a few photos of him chatting with his fellow monsters, uniformed, being Nazis, but they weren’t very good photos. I found a picture of him as a toddler and a picture of him wearing bunny ears (which I assume is a fake, but do correct me if I’m wrong because that would be interesting). But only the toddler picture counts. Yes, folks, any toddler could ultimately become Adolf Hitler (probably by never growing out of the Terrible Twos, but that’s another story.) And yes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be anybody.

My daughter, just a bit younger than the Tsarnaev brothers, headed off to Boston one day and was actually in the air not yet landed at Logan when the bombs went off at the marathon. For the entire day, I kept in touch with her via text messaging. She and her mom made it to their hotel in South Boston after hackney services were restored, though they had to spend a fair amount of time in the airport first. Over the next couple of days, the drama we all know about unfolded.

This perfectly nice looking guy is on trial in Boston, right now, for some 17 murders (and more).
This perfectly nice looking guy is on trial in Boston, right now, for some 17 murders (and more).
Somewhere during this time, Julia noted that had she been in the same high school with the Tsarnaev’s, she’d probably be their friends. This is not because she hangs around with terrorists. Rather, she has a long history, since early childhood, of association with the part of the world they come from, having lived in west/central Asia and gone to school there. Also, she lived in a country that, like Tsarnaev’s native land, was oppressed by the Soviets and since by the Russians. There would be many connections between them and they’d probably attend each other’s graduation parties. When I heard about the Rolling Stone cover, I thought of that, and thought it important to make the point that the Tsarnaevs are American Terrorists and emerged from our culture just as much as form somewhere else (though obviously it is more complicated than that).

We live in a culture where the visual trope rules. If a famous beauty is found by photographers with tussled hair, cellulite, or some food spilled on her shirt, that’s news. If a teabagger wants to depict Obama as a bad guy, he darkens the image because that racist trick works on a lot of people. They say (though I don’t assume it to be true) that Kennedy beat Nixon because Nixon had a bad five o’clock shadow. And so on. Massachusetts Trooper Sgt. Sean Murphy saw a picture of a bad guy that didn’t make him look like a bad guy and felt the need to risk his own career and violate the rules of his job, and probably violate his profession’s ethics, in order to “correct” that so the rest of us could go on hating Tsarnaev properly. He was wrong to do that. Nobody decided that it was OK to blow up people at the Boston Marathon because Tsarnaev looks like a hipster when he’s not all shot up lying in a boat in Watertown.

Also, this: If we insist that how you look has to match what you do, what you’ve done, what you might do, the kind of person you are, then we are fully subscribing to the worst in human nature. Think about it. If you are a woman and you wear certain cloths … If you have a certain color skin … If you seem to have a certain expression on your face …

Get over it, people. There is nothing wrong with Tsarnaev’s face. There is something wrong with Tsarnaev. These things are both true. Embrace the complexity that is reality.

The Boston Bombers: Something for everybody

Well, not everybody. First lets talk about some losers. Someday a brave journalist will ask the FBI why they had one of the suspects in sight a couple of years ago but this still happened. Chances are there is a very good answer and we should not be mad at the FBI for this, but at the moment, even asking the question will get people screaming at you. Someday a brave journalist will work out the details of how the State and Boston Police managed to miss the guy hiding in the boat a short distance form their dragnet. Chances are there is a very good reason for this, and we should not be mad at the cops, but at the moment, even asking the question will get people screaming at you. Someday (well, this is already happening a little) people will ask questions about the value of online entities such as 4Chan and Reddit as a venue for crowd sourcing police work. While these two groups of Ineternetters were busy accusing innocent people of being mass murderers and terrorists, but before they were shown to be abysmally wrong and having acted abysmally inappropriately, there were bloggers and commenters extolling the virtues of things like the “4Chan Think Tank” (makes me laugh) and handing out knighthoods to Redditors. In this case, crowd sourcing was not demonstrated to be a good thing. It is demonstrated to be a very bad thing. Then there’s Twitter. I for one am tired of hearing about how major news media has been replaced by Twitter. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not standing up here for major news media. They’ve got mondo problems. But Twitter was an utter failure during this event, for the most part. A great ocean of misinformation flooded the Internet mostly via Twitter, and served no good purpose at all.

But there are winners. Twitter also won the day, in a small way, in that the Boston Emergency Management Services and the Boston PD used it effectively (it seems) to convey information to a lot of people. My daughter had just arrived in Boston in time for the mayhem, and I was able to use those twitter streams to text her information as she hunkered down in the airport trying to salvage her plans, for instance.

Another winner was the police authorities, despite the shortcomings mentioned above. They did in fact get the two guys. Unfortunately, they did so with loss of life and with injury among their own, which underscores the fact that when the police “win” they often do so at an unthinkable cost.

But none of that is what I originally meant by “something for everybody.”

After the bombing and before the killing and capture of the suspects, people wondered what sort of person or entity was behind this. Some people were quite loud with their speculation, and every single case of blithering blathering of this sort that I observed had only one message: Arab or Middle Eastern Terrorists did this, bomb them now! The people who wondered if this was domestic terrorism or something else speculated more quietly, often privately. Almost all the conversations I engaged in of this sort during the “manhunt” were in private.

So, the speculation included “Islamic Middle Eastern Terrorist” and “Home grown Timothy McVeigh style terrorist” and my favorite, and to my knowledge I was the only one who said this, “Kids who are jerks and thought this would be rad.”

Turns out everybody was right.

The two terrorist suspects are from the “Middle East” if you define that region somewhat more broadly than is usually done. They were Islamic. But they were also relatively American. And they were two kids who seemed to think this would be rad.

A brief digression for perspective: Those not from working class Greater Boston Area (especially Cambridge, Somerville, Watertown and Belmont) should know that the percentage of average boys and girls one runs into on the street, in the store, or in school who are green-card holding individuals, or who were born in another country, is very large there. Well, in certain neighborhoods it might be low, but not where these folks lived. I lived a few blocks from where the big shootout happened. I once house sat just up the street from the house with the boat in the back yard. I also lived near the Cambridge location where relatives of the bombers lived. And so on. During my time living in the Boston area, my landlords and at least of my immediate neighbors (upstairs, downstairs, or next door) included people not born in the US 100% of the time, with the minor adjustment that although my neighbors near the house with the boat were, I think, all American born, the home owner was from Asia.

The two suspects were also kids who lived in the Boston area who might well have been 4Chaners or Redditers or bloggers (anyone know yet?) and at least one had a twitter account that looked just like a lot of teen age or 20-something dumb-ass MRA’s accounts, nothing special other than being a jerk like a lot of guys are. There is a reasonable chance that religion together with the whole Y-chromosome thing and other factors combined in a bad way with some sort of socio-(or whatevero)-pathy and that if any one of these elements was missing we’d have had a different result. Minor crime sprees, serial date rape, that sort of thing. But the truth is these guys were dumb-ass American dudes with Middle Eastern connections, Islamic religion and something badly wrong with them, but not so badly wrong, necessarily, as to wonder and worry about how easy it is for two dumb-ass dudes to go from being miscreants to murderers.

We don’t really know, yet, who Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev really are/were. The were born in what might be the most obscure of the this-or-that-istans, Kyrgyzstan. That makes them Asians, but since they are ethnic Chechens, putting their heritage in the Caucasus, they are Caucasians! Kyrgystan is a democracy-ish country with Islam as the main religion with a sprinkling of Russian Orthodox. It is a former Soviet state.

Tamerlan shares a name with Timur the Lame (aka Tamerlan), the mongol conquerer who was known as one of the most terrible of the terrible, and had ancestral connections to Genghis Khan. He conquered vast regions and he was the guy who burned down a remote monastery in Georgia, a locality now known as Dmanisi, where important hominid finds were made. I mention this because my daughter has lived and worked at Dmanisis, with her mom, for years, and they were stuck at the airport during the manhunt for namesake Tamerlan. Everything is connected to everything else.

But I digress. The Tsarnaev family moved to the US in 2002. The kids were born in 1993 and 1986, so they spent a fair amount of time in their homeland and also Russia, and a fair amount of time in the US. They were classified as refugees and were permanent residence of the US. They went to Ringe and Latin (I lived in that high school district for a few years … if it wasn’t for Academic Nomadism, Julia would have been Dzhokhar’s classmate). They were each involved in sports of combat in school (wrestling or boxing). One of them went to Bunker Hill for some college. In other words, they were very typical Bostonians.

Except for one or two details, perhaps.

The horror of this event …

We watch these events unfold through a veil of tears. And over time, it only gets worse as we learn the identities of some of the victims, and learn of the horrors of this particular kind of bomb attack. We wonder if the bomber knew that few would die but many would lose their legs, or if families of living vibrant people, standing together to watch other family members finish their run for some worthy cause, would be turned into a collection of news stories about the dead and the maimed. We also wonder why this target was chosen. Timothy McVeigh attacked a Federal office building to strike a blow against the government. The day care center he blew up was incidental to his goal. Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold slaughtered people in their classrooms, acts that are impossible to fathom but that at least fit the larger pattern of school shootings. Did this attack happen because it is April, when these things (such as all those just mentioned) tend to happen? Because it was Tax Day? Because it was Patriotsโ€™ Day? Was this bomber against runners? Was Boston the target? Was this merely a convenient gathering of Americans to use as targets to make some international terrorist statement? Was this angry white males from the woods of Michigan or the mountains of Idaho striking out against a liberal enclave?

Was it just some kid who thought this would be an outrageoius thing to do? Continue reading The horror of this event …