Archive for April, 2013

The Birth of The Lion
April 29, 2013

This is an essay I wrote for an online class over at Coursera, about my beginnings as a writer. Some of my legions of two fans might find it interesting. It did bring back memories – which may simply be an indication of early onset senility.


Writer? No, no way. When I was fifteen my life course was set. Bacteriology. Microscopes and petri dishes. After all, I’d spent my whole life messing with science stuff. Chemistry sets. Microscopes. Electronic gadgets. Yup, I was headed for the laboratories of Science. And nothing in the world was going to change my mind.

Not that I was a slouch in high school English composition. I was pretty good at it, probably because I read a lot, always had. But I never gave a thought to Writing as a career, as something to be sought, as a life path to follow. I just needed good grades.

One day my guidance counselor called me into his office. More trouble? Nope. Mr. T had a job offer. The local office of the regional daily newspaper, the Cape Cod Standard Times, needed a high school stringer, someone to report and write news from my high school. Apparently, glowing reports of my writing skills had turned Mr. T to my direction. And it’s not as if I weren’t familiar with the newspaper business: I’d been a paper boy for a couple of years for this very same paper – even won a trip to Italy for writing a contest submission to Parade’s Young Columbus project.

So I said yes, why not. I could make a few bucks, do something different for a while, hell, maybe even get my name in the paper as a writer. Couldn’t hurt when it came time to apply to college.

Yeah. Goodbye science, hello journalism! Oh my, take my breath away why don’t you!

I interviewed with the managing editor of the local office, Bill S. He seemed to like me and seemed to think that I could actually write decently, though not professionally, not yet. He hired me and put me under the wing of Paul A., who was about ten years older and a real, day-in day-out staff writer, a real news reporter. Paul was about six feet tall, immensely thin, and a little hunched over, as if he’d spent his entire life from babyhood bent over a hot typewriter. Paul was to be my mentor, trainer, confessor even, in matters of the typewriter. He introduced me to Bob E., the photographer, who would fill the same role in matters of the camera. Bob was a gentle man, all smiles and fun, and intensely competent.

I should note that this all happened back in the days when newspapering was about hot lead Linotype machines, big black office typewriters, rotary dial telephones, and the Internet of the time, the teletype machines, big noisy electric keyboard machines that sent the news out from our office to the main office and picked up the news from the AP, from UPI, from the New York Times, from the world out there. That was newspapering, old style, and it was wonderful. Sometimes, later on, I got to work in the main office down the Cape, and I can still hear the sound, at eleven every morning, of the big presses starting to roll on the other side of the building, starting off slow, and building quickly to a rumble and a roar as they took the copy I’d written an hour ago and thundered it into the day’s newspaper. God, the smell of newsprint was intoxicating! And now, fifty years on, my favorite writing program is called WriteMonkey, and I love it for two things – it’s plain black screen that holds only the words I type, like a page of newsprint copy paper, and the sound effect of old fashioned typewriter keys as I type.

But all that came later. In the beginning I was just the new kid. They gave me a desk in the back of the newsroom, with a big black Underwood typewriter. Paul explained how to write a news story, how to use the inverted pyramid style, and the basic questions a story had to answer: who, what, when, where, and why. He taught me what was news and what wasn’t news, and how to write it. Paul was always calm, always professional. He was a gentle man, self-effacing but by no means weak or retiring. He knew how to dig a story out of a recalcitrant world.

Bob, the photographer, taught me the secrets of the old Forties-style Graflex Graphic cameras with focal plane shutters, those with the big flash attachment. He showed me how to slide the plates into the back, plates that held two pieces of film. I’d take a picture, then have to flip the plate to get the other film in place. He showed me how to develop film in the basement darkroom and how to make prints. He taught me what made a good picture, and what made a poor picture.

After a while they sent me out on some assignments that weren’t for the high school news. Take a picture of a meeting. Get information on some little story. And come summer they hired me as a full-time staff writer for the summer. The real deal. One of the best moments came when Bill called me in to his office about a short business story I’d written. It was only a few paragraphs. ‘First rate,’ he said, handing me the piece he’d cut from the news page.

My last summer I started writing a feature a week for the Sunday paper. Long pieces. With my byline identifying me as a Staff Writer. But I knew better: I was a reporter.

I learned to write in that little office downtown. I learned to write fast, to deadline. I learned to write clean copy that got to the point. I learned to think a story through as I wrote it: there wasn’t time to agonize over words and phrases. The clock was ticking. The main office would roll that big press at eleven in the morning, no matter what.

I learned other things too. Bill died of a massive heart attack a few years later. He was 39. Bob took a job in upstate New York. The office moved, got modernized. The paper changed its name. All that happened after I left the paper, about a year after high school, after I had worked for about a year down Cape as a full time staffer. I never worked as a reporter again after that last stint: I was too restless, had too many paths to run. Paul, the guy who taught me how to write, how to write news, moved up to the main office in Hyannis and stayed with the paper for his whole career. A few years ago I ran into Paul again. He was at the local supermarket, bagging groceries for minimum wage. Trying to make ends meet, he told me.

Seeing Paul again reminded me that there was no better place to learn to write than in a small newspaper office, facing daily deadlines, working with competent writers. Seeing Paul calmly bagging groceries reminded me that there are no guarantees in life, especially in the writing life. The best we can do is to write honestly, to write with integrity, to write with care, but no matter how good we are at it, we are subject to the same vicissitudes of the universe as everyone else.


Patriotism, Patriotism, Wherefore Art Thou Patriotism?
April 28, 2013

patriot: n. a person who is devoted to and ready to support or defend his or her country. Syn: nationalist, loyalist; flag-waver, chauvinist. Oxford Desk Dictionary.

patriot: n. 1596, fellow countryman; also 1605, person who loyally supports his country, in Ben Jonson’s Volpone; borrowed from French patriote, and directly from Late Latin patriota, from Greek patriotes fellow countryman, from patria fatherland, from pater (genitive patros) FATHER, with the ending –otes expressing a state or condition as of one’s origin. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

One of the greatest attractions of patriotism — it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous. Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza, 17, 1936.

Patriotism is in political life what faith is in religion. Lord Acton, “Nationality”, 1862.

To deride patriotism marks impoverished blood, but to extol it as an ideal or an impulse above truth and justice, at the cost of the general interests of humanity, is far worse. John Mobley, Notes on Politics and History: A university Address, 5, 1913.

In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort [sic] of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, p. 98, 1911, Dover Edition, 1958.

Obviously there exist many ways to look at patriotism. One of the most intriguing may be Lord Acton’s statement that patriotism analogizes to religious faith, which is to say that patriotism is belief without evidence. But of course religious people will quarrel with that, and to my mind they will always be on the wrong end of that argument. Be that as it may, Lord Acton may have a point.

Patriots, and I am speaking of American patriots generally, especially the loudest of them, do seem to subsist on faith. They seem to know very little of the actual history of the United States; little of the actual content, intent, and context of the founding documents; little even of the institutions of government that live right in front of them today. They seem to believe things of the ilk that George Washington cut down a cherry tree and never told a lie; that the United States has never fought an unjust war; that the United States has always supported democracy, freedom, liberty; that a real citizen and patriot must have a gun in every room in order to repel the invasive government that is coming in force to take his handgun away; and the like. In other words they tend to believe nonsense and folderol, and they are willing to twist any fact they may accidentally come upon to fit their ignorance, if not downright ignore it as hard as they can.

But I’m willing to go further. I’m willing to say that the vast majority of Americans are not patriots. Most Americans haven’t made the effort required to be a true patriot. Most Americans couldn’t pass a civics test or an American history test if their life depended on it. Further, I suggest that most American don’t love the United States: love requires knowledge and understanding, two items sorely missing from the repertoire of so-called American patriots.

There’s a reason for that, more than one, but a big one is the simplest one. Most Americans are not patriots for the simple reason that they were born here.

Being a citizen by birth means you never have to choose to love your country; you never have to choose to be a citizen; you never have to pass a test demonstrating you know enough history and civics to become a citizen. You just are one.

And your education feeds you the myths and fairy tales designed to inculcate patriotic love of country. Washington and the cherry tree. The United States is the greatest country in the world. We’re the good guys, always. And every morning in school you have to take a loyalty oath, called the Pledge of Allegiance, when you don’t even understand it or its implications.

Between the sense of birthright and the failure of education, it’s no wonder that patriots are few and far between.

Now someone will immediately spring to the defense of our military and say they are patriots. Not necessarily. If you are born here and you grow up here and you run through the standard educational processes, such as they are, that are offered throughout the country, you won’t question military service. Today you don’t even have to think about it unless you are looking for a career choice in a lousy job market. In the past you only had to think about getting drafted, and that only if you were unlucky. Most soldiers simply accepted that service was what they had to do if they couldn’t avoid it.

No one says to our teenagers that if they want to be a citizen they have to serve a hitch in the military. Unless they’re immigrants – it seems popular these days among politicians to offer citizenship in exchange for accepting a role as cannon fodder for a few years.

Those who made a deliberate choice to sign up, usually in time of war or threatened war, for the most part made their decision based on jingoism and government propaganda, not on complete information about the conflict, not from historical perspectives, not on critical thought about the reasons for the war and the reasons for the leadership pushing for war.

None of what I say about soldiers intends to demean their sacrifice or their intent to serve their country. If anyone can be said to have earned citizenship, it is our combat soldiers. On the other hand, it may well be fair to say that most of them didn’t know what they were getting themselves into – in part because they were and are too often lied to and abused by politicians, many of whom never saw a day in uniform. Case in point: the Republicans, responsible for $800 billion dollars in war debt (so far) and responsible for two unnecessary, useless wars, and responsible for sending thousands of our soldiers to death, severe injury, severe psychological trauma, have recently blocked a one billion dollar jobs bill for returning veterans, claiming it’s not paid for. Oh, but it has been paid for, in coin that the Republicans will never understand. The point, though, is that the actions of the Republican leadership is an abuse of the soldiers.

Aside from soldiers, nobody born here is asked to take a test for citizenship. There is no test for patriotism, for love of country. In fact too often those who do most love the country are those who are most derided and demeaned by so-called patriots. I mean those who take a serious interest in civic affairs, who dare to speak in dissent from government policies, who dare question the myths and propaganda spewed out by politicians and pundits. Who loves their country the most – those who work at knowing and understanding the facts and truths about their country, or those who have done nothing but be born here and have simply assumed that they are therefore real Americans, with all the privileges thereof?

Most people fall into the latter category. To them I’d say that the lowliest immigrant who applies for citizenship and studies to pass the citizenship tests and meets not only the requirements but negotiates successfully, perhaps after several tries, the bureaucracy of immigration, is more worthy of being called an American and a patriot than vast swathes of the people who were born here.

A patriot might be the kid who decides to join the military, not as a career choice, but because he has read our history, because he has read our military history, because he has researched the contemporary issues of his time and sought to understand them, and concluded that the virtuous path for him to take would be to sign up. A patriot might be the kid who has done the same work and concluded that the current political situation calls for dissent and resistance to the calls of politicians for more soldiers, and becomes an active dissenter. Neither of those two people should have their love of country questioned.

A patriot might be a woman with a family, called to jury duty, who, instead of complaining about it, does her research into the legal system and the place of juries in her contemporary legal framework and in the history of the country, and concludes that she should accept jury duty as a responsibility of citizenship. And a patriot might be her opposite who has done the same study, and determined that the jury system needs to be questioned and perhaps changed, or that the people in charge of it are treating the system with contempt and need to be changed. Both may be considered to love their country.

Blind faith in the leaders and institutions of the country is not love of country. It is the antithesis of patriotism.

Ignorant belief about American history is not patriotism. It is the opposite of love of country.

Waving a flag or wearing a lapel flag pin demonstrates nothing besides blind faith or ignorant belief.

Shouting ‘We’re the greatest nation on earth’ while waving the flag, literally or metaphorically, demonstrates nothing but ignorance of facts and an unwillingness to consider facts about the country and its place in the world.

Disparaging others because they are black, or white, or red, or yellow, or brown, or gay, or straight, or male, or female, or speak with an accent, or are immigrants, disparaging other Americans because they are different demonstrates a complete failure to understand America and its founding ideals.

Ignorance of our history, ignorance of how we became a nation, of what was the intention of our nationhood, of how we have acted in the world and at home, willful ignorance supplanted by willful acceptance of falsehoods, that should be disparaged, discouraged, and corrected.

It is not enough to call oneself a patriot because you love your country. Ignorant love is not real love. When you pursue knowledge of your country, of its history, of its intent, of its actions in the world, of its actions at home; when you look at the facts and the messy truths and accept them; when you choose to make your country better and when you act to make your country better from a sense of concern and compassion and understanding, not from a sense of unfounded pride, not from bigotry, not from hatred, not from fear; when you care more for your fellow Americans than for your bank account or your possessions; when you don’t shrink from civic duty, whether it is jury duty or military service or paying taxes, whether it is honest dissent or reasoned civil disobedience or calling out the false patriots in power, then you can begin to call yourself a patriot, then you will have discovered what it is to love your country.


Boston Bombings Created In Washington? The Blood-Dimmed Tide of Blowback.
April 21, 2013

I’m a bit put off by the screechy patriotic noises emanating from the aftermath of the Marathon bombing. The local Boston commentators go on about how Boston will take two punches to deliver one, how the firefighters and cops and others ran into the bombed area to help people, as if everyone else in the world would run away and only Bostonians are noble enough to rush to the aid of the injured, and so forth and so on.

The only attempt to connect what happened in Boston to events elsewhere in the world has been to blame Islamic extremism. Not registering on the radar of these preachy screechers is the fact that if the United States had not been such a bad actor in the world this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened here.

We ripped Iraq apart for no reason and now scores of people in Iraq die in terrorist bombings every week. Week after week. That’s on the United States for destroying a stable, if unsavory, government. We have shredded Afghanistan, and continue to kill innocents, women and children, every day, and terrorist bombings there have been picking up the pace of late.

And Syria. Bloody Syria. The ugly regime of Assad has slaughtered untold tens of thousands of its citizens for two years, while the United States twiddled its thumbs. When the U.S. finally decided it might be to its advantage to intervene to stop the slaughter of innocents by the government, it first pleaded, then it made empty threats and set up useless sanctions, and then decided to send aid. Blankets and medicine to fight jets and artillery. But no weapons, none of the arms so desperately needed by the rebellion, by the people doing the fighting and dying, because…wait for it… because later on the weapons might fall into the ‘wrong’ hands. So it’s okay for Assad to engage in the mass slaughter of unarmed civilians, to send jets and helicopters and artillery against women and children in cities, to unleash some of the most vicious militias on the face of the earth against families, but not for the U.S. to provide arms and ammunition to the fighters because of some possible consequence out there in the future. The only thing such a policy accomplishes is to make sure that if the rebellion succeeds the people who fought and bled will remember that the United States sat on its hands and watched thousands die at the hands of a vicious dictator.

And why? Because when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan the United States sent arms to the rebels there and the rebels ultimately turned out to be people the geniuses in the U.S. government couldn’t control or buy off. So now the current geniuses, who probably went to the same school as those other geniuses, have decided to change the policy. In other words, they’re still thinking in terms of the Afghan-Soviet conflict and ignoring the completely different Syrian rebellion that’s happening under their noses.

No one should doubt for a minute that if Assad succeeds in crushing the rebellion the United States will just cozy up to him again. And when it does, the Syrian people will see that and they will remember.

But that’s how the United States does business in the world. Never mind the people. Love the tyrant. Love the money. Screw the peasants. That’s how it does business in the Middle East, in South Asia, in Central America, in South America, in the Far East. We shout ‘Democracy!’ and we shout ‘Liberty!’ and then we send in our corporations to rape the people and to rape the country.

And then when someone steps on our little toe, as at the Boston Marathon, because they see all of this and decide to take a bit of revenge, the United States gets offended and plays the victim of horrible, terrible, evil people. I’m surprised we haven’t bombed Dagestan or Kyrgyzstan, where the Tsarnaev family came from. Or Cambridge, for that matter. After all, that’s where these two killers lived. Must be an evil place. 

Yes, the Marathon bombings were tragic. Yes, it’s sad about the deaths and the injuries and the suffering. Yes, the Tsarnaev brothers were bad actors.

But what the people of Boston and the United States refuse to see, refuse to understand, refuse to even consider, is that the act was inevitable, if not in Boston then somewhere in America, that it was a direct result of the actions of the United States in the world. It’s called blowback, and the winds of blowback are getting stronger. They swirl into every corner of the United States and they’ll touch people who do see, who have a stake out there in the world – brothers, sisters, parents, children, cousins, a town, a village, a city – and who recognize the futility of trying to talk sense to a government that puts itself above all others and arrogantly seeks to rule the world, arrogantly ignores international law, arrogantly attacks innocents in pursuit of endless war benefiting only war profiteers and corporations who refuse to pay taxes while profiting from having their talons deep in the bowels of Congress and every Executive Administration of the last several decades.

Cry for the victims of Boston if you will, and you should. But don’t ever forget that the bombs of the Tsarnaev brothers were created in the inner circles of the United States government.


Fascism In Boston? Or Stupidity On The Left?
April 20, 2013

Yesterday I stumbled on a Facebook thread in which the main commenters were using this week’s police work in Boston as indicators of Fascism in the United States. Included was a picture of an armored Humvee, in camouflage paint, with an armored officer holding an automatic weapon standing in the open top hatch.

The military tenor of the picture was one of the motivators for  the cries of Fascism.

The other major motivator was the lockdown of Boston and four surrounding towns. The civil authorities ordered that to keep people off the street and to give the police more freedom to find the 19-year-old suspect.

These two things were enough to inspire cries of Fascism, but the cries were couched in attacks on the police, as if the police were responsible for the Fascism the commenters decried.

To be blunt, these people had their heads up their asses and were convenient tools of the real Fascisti, if you will.

To add to the picture, a commentator on WBUR in Boston this morning brought up similar complaints about the shutdown and the military vehicles, and plaintively remembered the good old days when the cops on a similar mission many years ago were armed with nothing but shotguns and plastic shields.

Let’s look at the situation again.

Two people walked into the crowds of Boston Marathon spectators and deliberately set off two bombs that killed three people and injured some 150 others, some severely.

Various police and intelligence agencies set out to find the bombers. Within two days they had photographs, which they circulated to the public.

Thursday night, late, the police discovered the suspects either robbing a 7-11 store or an ATM – I’m not clear on that yet. The suspects killed an MIT police officer as he sat in his police car. They gravely wounded an MBTA Transit Police Officer. They hijacked an SUV and ran, with police pursuing them.

The suspects threw explosives from their car at the pursuing police. Massive amounts of gunfire were exchanged. Ultimately the older brother was killed – was apparently run over by his brother who escaped. Doctors who examined the dead brother said his wounds indicated he had been exposed to an explosive blast, which indicated he might have been wearing an explosive vest.

An intensive manhunt for the younger brother ensued in Watertown, without success, for the rest of the night. Then the civil authorities ordered the lockdown for Watertown, Boston, and other towns. They wanted people off the street, out of harms way, and out of the police’s way.

The lockdown was apparently a Fascist sin according to the screaming philosophers of the left.

Apparently forgotten in their political rage was the fact that this kid walked calmly into a crowd of spectators at the Marathon and blew a bomb.

Friday morning and all day Friday he was on the loose. He was hunted and desperate and armed, and the only safe assumption that could be made was that he would kill again, and if necessary he would kill himself, taking as many people with him as he could. If there had not been a lockdown he could well have walked up to a crowd in the subway or at a bus stop or in a restaurant and blown them up along with himself. The only way to prevent that was to get people off the street until the police had killed or captured the killer.

That’s not Fascism. That’s good police work.

As for the armored Humvees and the very serious weapons the cops carried, maybe the critics would do well to remember we live in a society where a five-year-old kid could walk into a gun show and walk out with an assault rifle and nobody would blink an eye among the gun crowd. The NRA and their ilk, willingly doing the dirty work of the gun manufacturers, have made it possible for almost anyone, anytime, anywhere, to get serious and deadly weaponry. And yet here we have people saying the police should face that threat with shotguns and plastic shields.

That’s bullshit.

But here’s the rest of the story. While these screeching protesters in that Facebook thread were criticizing the police and calling them Fascists, the real Fascists were sitting in their expensive corporate offices and Congressional offices of the Republican Party chuckling at the fools attacking the police.

The police are tools of society. They do what society demands of them to keep peace and order. They are not the creators of Fascism or Communism or Democracy. They are not the real enemy, and if you decide that the grounds on which you will fight incipient anti-democratic forces are the grounds the police stand on, you will have simply played into the hands of the people out to destroy democracy in America.

In fact it would be well to consider that those who call the police Fascists might well be in the employ of the real wreckers of democracy, because what those at the top of the anti-democratic movement most want to see is the people at the bottom fighting among themselves. They are happy to see the police attacked, and to see the police fighting back, because when that happens no one is looking at the corporate officers of Monsanto and Exxon and General Electric and the rest of them, and no one is looking at the Republicans smirking in their offices and cutting the legs out from under democracy in the House and the Senate.

When someone cries Fascism and points at the police or at others who live in the same strata of society as most of us, we would do well to turn to that person and question his motives and his background and his political leanings. We would do well to ask why he is not pointing at the wealthy destroyers of democracy like the Koch brothers and their ilk; at the vile actions of the Republicans in Congress; at the priests and ministers who would force their theology into our laws; at the corporate princes who cry ‘We want free markets’ for the sole reason that they will profit more from the suffering they can inflict on the people.

The police are an easy target, and the wannabe tyrants will do all they can to make them even easier targets by calling for police powers to be increased. Don’t look at the police: look at the people who want to make the police more powerful, more intrusive, more invasive.

The police have always been a paramilitary organization. They have to be in order to function effectively. With the increase in American military activities, more veterans will find a career and a home in local police operations, and the police will become even more militarized. And they will face greater threats to society. But they will not create a Fascist state. They will be its tools if such a state is established.

To criticize the cops, federal and local, who put their lives on the line to save your dumb ass from the Tsarnaev brothers, is the height of stupidity, and makes you one of the tools that will help create a Fascist state.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Some Thoughts
April 16, 2013

It’s about seven thirty in the morning, the day after two bombs exploded in the finish area of the Boston Marathon. So far three people are dead and some one hundred fifty injured.

I think this was interesting but not surprising. It was inevitable, if not at Boston then someplace else. Our culture breathes violence, encouraged by right wing politicians, fundamentalist preachers, and psychopaths of all stripes in various political subgroups, including the love-the-fetus-screw-the-child groups. We are a society of hatred and mental illness.

What is more interesting to me than the event itself is the question of who the bomber is, and why he did this.

The Weapon:

Bombs. Two of them, about a hundred yards apart, on sidewalks filled with people. The bomber planted them on the same side of the street. They weren’t there during the morning inspection by bomb sniffing dogs: either the dogs missed them, or the materials were not materials the dogs had been trained on, or the bomber planted them later during the race itself. They were, as far as I can gather now, placed on the sidewalk, ground level. There have been suggestions they were placed in trash cans, but that’s not been verified yet.

The bombs were powerful. People’s lower legs were blown away.

The bombs exploded about ten seconds apart, first the one right near the finish line, and the second about a hundred yards before the finish.

These facts suggest the following:

Choice of weapon. Anonymous. Safe, for him. If he used a cellphone to detonate them he did not have to be in the area when they exploded. The ten second gap could be explained by separate cellphone triggers: as soon as the first bomb exploded he dialed a number to trigger the second. Or it could have been that he had clock triggers that were not quite synchronized.

Placement of the weapons. As noted, he placed them where they would do maximum damage to anonymous civilians. He also placed them about a hundred yards apart and triggered them sequentially. If the sequence was intentional he might have been intending to catch people fleeing the first explosion. The placement suggests that he knew the capability of the bombs to wreak damage from where he placed them, and that he was very confident of his ability to place the weapons without being caught. Placing them at or near the finishing line grandstands suggests high levels of confidence and skill at stealth.

Unexploded weapons. Early reports from the police say that two more bombs were found, apparently in the area of the viewing stands at the finish line. These did not explode and were disposed of by the police, at least one by exploding it, according to the information the news channels are disseminating. If true, that makes four weapons. If they were also cellphone bombs, why didn’t they explode? The police say they shut down cellphone service almost immediately, which would have disabled the bombs, and also that would indicate that the bomber had not built in a backup system. It is also possible that the bombs were faulty, or that the bomber felt some remorse, or that the bomber was actually injured or killed in one of the two explosions, which might tend to eliminate cellphone triggers.

The explosives. At this point we don’t know what sort of explosive the bomber used. We do know that it was powerful, as it was contained in a small package, now suspected to be a backpack. But the fact that it was powerful suggests that the bomber is intelligent enough to either obtain powerful explosives or to manufacture the material, and that he was skilled in working with the material. Further, if he did not manufacture the explosive, he would have to have either stolen it or purchased it from a reliable source of illegal explosives. Stealing it suggests again a high level of confidence and skill at stealth. Purchasing it suggests a knowledge of criminal activity and criminal sources, as well as sufficient confidence in that knowledge that would allow him to deal with criminals without worrying about the danger of the sources implicating him in the bombings. Criminals would likely come forward with information once they realized the material they sold had been used at the Marathon. They would be better off telling what they knew rather than take the chance the bomber would implicate them in a horrendous crime that might well get them executed or imprisoned under a terrorism warrant.

Generally, the choice and use of the weapons suggests an intelligent person, someone who can plan carefully, someone with knowledge of explosives and bombmaking, someone confident enough to manufacture, plant, and explode the weapons with little fear of being caught.

These attributes suggest someone with either military training, possibly a veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, or someone who meticulously sought out information on how to make and place bombs. In either case he is confident and skilled. If he sought the information from public sources, he would have been careful, having formed his intent, to not use one source, say, the Internet or one particular library. He would deliberately have sought his information from a number of sources in order to evade leaving an easy trail.

The Victims:

1. The bomber chose anonymous citizens as victims.

2. The bomber did not choose a government facility, a military facility, an abortion clinic, or a corporate facility.

3. The bomber chose a popular public event which draws worldwide interest.

4. The bomber did not choose an event or a venue with any political significance.

5. The bomber apparently attended the event while it was in full swing in order to leave his weapons on the sidewalks and in the area of the grandstand. He walked among his victims before killing them.

6. The bomber has not at this point released any statement about his intent or purpose which would indicate why he chose to kill anonymous people.

7. Why did he plant bombs in the grandstands? He must have known that when the first two went off that area would be cleared and that there would not be any ceremonies to disrupt. Another possibility is that he intended to blow the grandstand first, and as the people fled from there he would blow the next bomb (the actual first explosion) as people ran that way. If so, the grandstand bombs failed for some reason. Or if he intended to blow the stands last, perhaps to catch a bunch of officials or first responders, he may have been stymied by the police-ordered cellphone shutdown. Or the bombs could simply have been faulty.

The Timing:

1. April 15 is the deadline for state and federal income tax payments.

2. April 19 is important to right-wing militias.

3. April 15 is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts, again important to right wing militias and the like.

4. The dates may well have been simply coincidental and not important. The bomber may have considered that the public, international nature of the event, and its sheer size were the significant points of interest for his purpose.

5. The explosions occurred when, according to news sources, the sidewalks at the finish area would be crowded. If the bomber was familiar with the Marathon in past years, he would likely know this, and choose that time for a maximum kill. This would also have been well past the time when the elite runners from around the world would have gone from the area. The bomber could well have achieved an even greater effect if he had blown his bombs when the groups of elite runners were finishing. Why did he wait until later? The sidewalks would have been more crowded at that time. Possibly he might have been thinking that with a denser crowd the bombs would actually do less damage, as those closest would have suffered the most damage but would also have shielded those people farther away. If that’s so, then that might indicate that the bomber is extremely thoughtful and meticulous in his planning. If not so, he may have considered it more convenient to plant the weapons at a later time when he might find it easier to leave the area due to the lower density of people.

I’ve put these thoughts together based on what the news media have put out so far. I don’t know that everything they’ve said is accurate, as it is still early in the investigation. My suspicion is that the bomber is intelligent, careful, thoughtful, and meticulous; that he is skilled at handling explosives; that he may be former military, possibly a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan; that he is confident; that he is skilled at stealth; that this is his first bombing; that his politics lean towards the extreme right-wing; that he may have a tangential connection with right-wing militias or other organizations. That there has been no statement of purpose coming from him suggests that this may be personal: that is, he’s in it for the thrill, for the sense of personal power.

This is, of course, speculation. I simply found myself asking why a person would do this, and what kind of person might do this, and I wanted to ask and examine these questions without burdening them with the emotional cloud surrounding the events. As I said earlier, I don’t find the bombing either surprising or shocking, but merely inevitable. Vile and ugly, but inevitable.


Late news via TPM: Apparently there were no other bombs besides the two that exploded.