Tuesday, April 16, 2013

bombing in Boston

[NB: Check the bottom of this post for updates.]

The news is still confused, and filled with plenty of "at least"s. It seems there were at least two explosions at or around the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and that at least 100 people were injured. At least 2 people were killed, one an eight-year-old child.

At least the bombers haven't been caught and strapped in chairs in a cellar, with me as their interrogator. But I suspect that, as this latest terrorist attack is parsed and reverse-engineered by our intelligence services, plenty of information will come to light, and one or more people will face justice. Unfortunately, I suspect it will be a gentle form of justice—prison, or some such nonsense. At least the terrorists have that going for them.

Hat tip to the Marmot's Hole for being the first to alert me to what was up. Robert links to the real-time-updated Atlantic Wire.

I have a lot of respect for runners. Running, like mountain climbing, is basically you against the earth, and the earth never bullshits. Running is all about whether you can hack reality, whether you understand your own limits. The best runners are tough-minded, determined people, and I'm sure they've already formulated an answer to today's bombing: run again. And again. And again. Fuck you.

One police detainee is apparently a Saudi national, and the coordinated nature of the bombing suggests the work of al-Qaeda. Hmmm... should I still be considering that teaching job in Saudi Arabia...? Could I, once in Saudi, keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself? I seriously doubt it. So no: Korea it is.

UPDATE, 11:11PM: For those of you who don't know, a video adjunct of Twitter called Vine allows for the video version of tweeting: people can upload up to six seconds of video footage, which then plays over and over in a hypnotic (and often annoying) loop. Audio can be masked or unmasked. A Vine clip highlighted by the Atlantic Wire shows the moment of the first explosion at the Boston Marathon. It's well worth watching, and the video-looping feature is to your advantage, because it lets you study the moment thoroughly. A few things I learned just from watching that loop:

1. The first explosion wasn't that powerful. People not ten yards away from the center of the detonation were completely unhurt. The only people who got hurt, in theory, were people hit by shrapnel. For there to have been amputations, as has been reported, people must have been standing awfully close to the bomb, and/or been in an area where plenty of shrapnel was available. Not having read a full chronology of events (I don't expect that a truly comprehensive one will be available for weeks), I have no idea whether the first or the second major explosion caused more injuries. At a guess, more damage was done by the second blast, which happened just up the street, mere moments after the first explosion.

2. One runner goes down in this video. He looks old, so it's unclear whether he falls to the ground because he's been hit by shrapnel or simply because he's weak from age, and from just having run 26 miles.

3. Another runner, not far from the old runner who falls, does something inexplicable: he holds his head and looks in the direction opposite the blast. Why would he do that? What did he expect to see? Compare this man's reaction to the that of the police who lined the street, all wearing black uniforms and sporting yellow safety vests: the police, almost as a unit, turn toward the explosion, as common sense would dictate. I'd love to hear any commenters' explanations for the runner's odd behavior. Is he just wired wrong? People do strange and stupid things in a crisis.

4. The marathon clock shows 4:09:43 when the explosion happens. The Channel 7 clock at the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, shows 3:19PM. Is this the actual time that the explosion happened, or merely the time that the recording of the explosion was being broadcast? If everything was live, then the marathon began at 11:10AM, assuming "4:09:43" indicates elapsed time. I'm not sure what relevance this observation may have, but it at least provides a vague time frame.

5. As bombings go, this was nothing compared to some of the horrific deeds in places like Iraq, where fifty to sixty people can die in a moment because of a well-placed car bomb. It's sad that at least two people were killed in Boston, but it must be said that we were lucky. This could have been much, much worse.

UPDATE, 11:52PM: Let's talk theory for a second. I've seen some wild-eyed speculation in the comments sections of different news articles that this bombing might either be some sort of Tea Party action (a theory forwarded by people with no damn clue what the Tea Party is actually about and who Tea Partiers actually are) or a provocation by North Korea as part of their "Kim Il-sung Day" celebrations. Both theories are asinine. Common sense dictates that the bombings are likely the result of Islamic terrorists, not "home-grown" Tim McVeigh types.

I remember being initially open-minded about the source of the 9/11 attacks, but it was one of my mother's coworkers, a scholarly man from Ghana, who set me straight. "Come on!" he urged. "Who do you think could possibly do something like this?" "Muslim fanatics?" I offered. "That's right!" he grunted. And of course, he turned out to be correct. If "Muslim terrorist" isn't the first thing you thought when you heard about these bombings, then you've been seriously brainwashed to look deliberately elsewhere for possible causes. That makes you a lot like that runner I mentioned above—the one who looks in precisely the wrong direction the moment after the explosion. Some people are just wired backward, I guess; they do strange and stupid things in a crisis, like not make realistic assessments of the situation.



John McCrarey said...

Yeah, FB has been lit up with this all afternoon. A Muslim acquaintance in Korea is all fired up because some FOX commentator tweeted that all Muslims should be killed. And you probably saw that CNN's Wolf Blitzer speculated (hoped?) it was some TEA party type protesting tax day of some such BS.

Ah well. My only issue with the Muslim community is that they never strike me as getting vocally upset about the violence, just the stereotype.

Charles said...

Hmm. I didn't really get the impression that the one runner was looking the "wrong" way. My first thought was that he was running with someone else and turned back to make sure his companion was OK. You can see that his initial reflex is to duck or cringe, like everyone else, and it is only a split-second later that he turns to look back. I imagine this was how long it took his brain to process what had happened, and his first conscious thought was of his companion. My wife and I have run races together before, and I know that if a bomb went off nearby I would do exactly the same thing.

I don't know if that's actually what happened, of course, but it seems a simpler explanation than the idea that he is wired wrong.

Kevin Kim said...

Not sure that's a simpler explanation, mainly because I can't see his companion, if he even has one. His actions just appear so strange to me. It might be interesting to see what transpired in the next ten or fifteen seconds.

Unknown said...

Why would the north Korea connection be asinine? Perhaps not a direct link to Kim Il Sung's birthday but a provocation nonetheless. I can't think of a better way to strike at the US without having to worry about the ROK-US alliance kicking in. Better yet arrange to have it executed by a third party such as a Islamic terrorist organization. Kim Jong Un could now have the distinction his father and grandfather never had, killing Americans on U.S. soil. It would go a long way to solidify his power over the military.

I wouldn't discount anything at this point. There are too many folks in the world that would be capable of such acts.

Charles said...

Really? I looked at the video again, and we can't really see more than a few meters behind the guy, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that someone he knows is behind him. It just seems a lot more likely that he is looking *at* something or someone than *away* from the blast. And he's not really looking away, either--he continues beyond looking directly away from the blast (180 degrees) and turns almost another 90 degrees. If he were simply looking away from the blast, why would he twist his body to look behind him?

I don't think I would have thought twice about his actions if you hadn't pointed them out, as they didn't really seem strange or unnatural to me at all. Like you said, people look toward things in a crisis. He just happened to be looking toward something that was more important at that moment than the explosion.

At least, that's the way it looked to me.

Kevin Kim said...


Obviously, I can't deny that what you're saying is possible, but I seriously, seriously doubt it's plausible. NK traditionally has a much easier time poking its finger in the eye of SK than of the US: SK will scream and rant and vow revenge, but won't ever do anything. The US, on the other hand, just might. I'll tell you what, though: if the FBI digs up a provable NK connection sometime over the next few months, I'll post a photo of me eating my hat.


We see what we see, I guess. I still think it'd be interesting to know what that runner did over the next few seconds. If he were concerned about a friend or friends, he'd have shuffled toward them with a "Hey, you guys OK?" sort of solicitousness. This line of thinking assumes, of course, that after 26 miles, he knew, despite being tired, just where to look for his friends in the crowd of runners approaching the finish line. Quite sharp situational awareness! When you're cross-eyed with exhaustion after a long run, do you know exactly how far behind your friends are?

I'd agree he's probably looking at something, but I question why he's prioritizing that something instead of the blast itself.