Thoughts on the Boston Bombing

By now, you’ve heard of the explosions at the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t there on Monday, but I was at the finish line years ago when I lived in Boston while attending college.

In the late seventies, the race ended at the Pru in Back Bay. It’s always held on Patriot’s Day, and we had no classes that day. Some friends and I would climb on a particular sign that was wide enough to sit on and which gave a nice view of the finish line. I think it was my idea for us to “air paddle” in unison while astride the sign. A photo of us got into the Boston Globe one year. We made a few people laugh.

This year’s marathon won’t be remembered for much laughing.

At this writing, there is no conclusion about who executed this bombing, and I imagine it’ll be a long time for the clues to be discovered, pieced together, and made public.

This reminds me of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Though this event preceded the 9/11 attacks, rumors immediately spread that a Muslim organization was behind it. That this turned out to be domestic terrorism was a reminder that there’s lots of violence to go around, and we mustn’t jump to conclusions.

Another bombing

Speaking of bombs, did you hear about the dirty bomb plot planned for Obama’s first inauguration in January, 2009? This wasn’t something caught at the border or uncovered in another country. This one was being built domestically.

As with Oklahoma City, the guy behind the plot wasn’t an Al-Qaeda terrorist. James Cummings lived in a small town in Maine. He was a 29-year-old white supremacist who displayed a swastika flag in his home and claimed to own pieces of Hitler’s personal silverware. He was furious at Obama’s election and the bomb was to be his response.

Oh yeah—and he reportedly received $10 million per year from a trust fund.

But here’s the really crazy part of the story: detective work didn’t uncover this plot. Investigators only found out about it after Cummings’ wife killed him with two bullets to the head while he slept, barely a month before Obama’s inauguration. He was well on his way to making the bomb, and investigators found thorium and depleted uranium (bought online) as well as instructions and ingredients for making a bomb.

This doesn’t sound like someone who fit into any of the usual bins. Sounds like a man-bites-dog event that should make it a widely distributed story. Or is its violation of the stereotype why the story isn’t more widely known? Would a Muslim plot foiled in Yemen have made news while a millionaire, wife abusing, white supremacist plot foiled by accident in small-town Maine didn’t?

Maybe Muslim anger is behind the Boston bombing; maybe it’s not. Let’s not speculate too much until the facts are in.

News outlets not 100% reliable.

There’s another takeaway from the Boston bombing for me. A powerful emotional story like this one is a good place to look for change over time. For example, I heard that police had found one unexploded bomb in addition to the two that exploded. Later, I heard that they’d found five.

It turns out that authorities never found any.

And did you hear about the guy who planned to propose after he reached the finish line, but his fiancée-to-be was killed in the blast? Did you hear about the young girl, “running for the Sandy Hook victims,” who was killed? Did you get the tweet that race organizers would pay a dollar for every retweet?

These are sticky stories, but all of them are untrue.

Celebrities have (predictably) jumped in. Many have already speculated about the causes. Michael Moore tweeted “2+2 =.” What’s that supposed to mean? That it’s easy to connect the dots to point to some right-wing nutjob?

A conservative radio commentator tweeted, “[the bombing] stinks to high heaven #falseflag,” which presumably suggests that the bombing isn’t what it appears to be. Maybe that it’s a conspiracy by some left-wing nutjob?

The more important a story, the more it will pick up “improvements” over time. Given what we’ve seen in the first 24 hours after the bombing, imagine how the story of Jesus would’ve changed over its first 24 years.

Be a good guest at the dinner table of life
— A.C. Grayling

Photo credit: TMZ

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