Posted tagged ‘Marathon’

Not Quite Getting It…Or the Perils of Village Life

April 25, 2013

I usually think well of Garance Franke-Ruta’s work over at The Atlantic, so what follows isn’t so much a “pox-upon-her-house” screed as it is a cautionary tale.

Vice President Joe Biden came to my patch yesterday,  MIT, to play his familiar role as consoler-in-chief at the memorial service for Sean Collier, the MIT police officer murdered last week.

Édouard_Manet_-_The_Funeral

His speech was vintage Joe, powerful, direct, colored by emotion expressed bluntly, clearly, without (seeming)* artifice.  It was aimed carefully — if you actually listened —  towards at least two audiences: not just the sea of police and students spread out before him, but also the Republican party, and the American people beyond.

That’s what Franke-Ruta missed as she chased a tired meme.  Hers is the artless Joe, who genuinely, if perhaps a little embarassingly, is all raw heat, no reflection — the administration’s “id” as her headline would have it.  The comparison to be drawn is obvious, and Franke-Ruta does so in her first sentence:  Joe’s the man with real-people responses, which  his boss, the President is too cool (read, not quite human) to deliver.  From there, her analysis dives even deeper into conventional wisdom:

Today’s example was Biden unleashing a stream of wholly warranted invective at the Boston Marathon bombers. Speaking at memorial services for slain M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier, he called bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev “two twisted, perverted, cowardly knock-off jihadis.”…

Some asserted he was insensitively diminishing the attack by calling the attackers “knock-off.” But there was no question that in repeatedly calling the suspects “perverted jihadis,” Biden was once again taking on his designated role as senior administration official who gets to sling it.

Fortunately, Franke-Ruta posted a video of part of Biden’s speech, so her readers could check her exegesis.  Listen, and you’ll certainly hear Biden excoriate the Tsarnaevs.  But the guts of his argument are to be found in what Biden said next, about the right — and wrong — ways to respond to the acts of terrorists, hard core or mere knock-offs:

The truth is on every frontier, terrorism as a weapon is losing…and what galls them the most is that America does remain that shining city on a hill. We are a symbol of the hopes and the dreams, the aspirations of people all around the world…our very existence makes the lie of their perverted ideology.

So the only way they can gain ground is to instill fear that causes us to jettison our values, our way of life, for us to change.  The moment we change, the moment we look inward, the moment we get in a crouch and are defensive, that’s the moment they win. What makes me so proud of this great state, and the city of Boston and Cambridge and all those involved and the students on this campus, what makes me so proud to be an American is that we have not yielded to our fears; we have not compromised our values, we have not weakened our constitutional guarantees. We have not closed our borders.

I can surely argue that some of that is more aspirational than hard fact.  Post-9/11 and continuing into this decade, we have yielded some guarantees.  We have allowed our fears to legitimize laws like the Patriot Act, to allow torturers to thrive in our dark rooms, to sink to force feeding prisoners starving themselves to escape the legal purgatory that incarcerates without providing any avenue for either exoneration or certain punishment.

But Biden did limn a present realit as well, in that we still live in a country where a ruling like Hamdan v. Rumsfeld can be both heard and decided against the government.  I live in a town where  police officers tackled a cop-killer in the midst of a gun battle, in the hopes of keeping him alive long enough to face a court.  Here in Boston, Dzokhar Tsarnaev was charged as a common criminal, read his rights (not fast enough for some, but still) and will in fact face civilian charges.  This country are so far from perfect it sometimes feels like we’re can only approachperfection  the long way round — but that’s in the nature of cities on hills.  I’m pretty sure Joe had something like this in mind when he spoke yesterday.

And I have next to no doubt at all that he was scolding that claque of Republican leaders who seem to have lost all courage, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and all the rest.  They’ve been up on their hind legs since Friday,  bellowing the urgency of making sure Tsarnaev face  a jury-rigged military tribunal system, and damned be the American constitutional system and any faith in the power of a jury of Americans to do and be seen to have done justice.

That rebuke is what this speech was about, beyond the pure duty of comfort that Biden handled so well in the first, longer section of his remarks.  He was telling a failed Republican party that America is something other than hollow republic the Bush-Cheney regime sought to build.  He was as well talking to the broader audience through the TV set, making the case (again!) that there is an alternative to a government based on authority granted out of fear.  He was reminding everyone in earshot that the way the Republicans ran the republic — and would do again, if they get the chance — is not just an error; it’s un-American.  This was powerful stuff, and inside the political ring, it was had the power to hurt, a nut-cutting blow.

That is to say:  who cares if Biden used the phrase “knock-off,” or uttered in public the word “perverted?”  Franke-Ruta’s gnawing away on those old bones is a failure of reportorial nose, a misjudgment that obscured the real story right in front of her.

As I said at the top of this post, I don’t think Franke-Ruta’s a bad journalist, not at all. So I take her whiff as an indication of what it costs when you live inside a thought/media/opinion bubble, at the heart or even the outskirts of the Village.  Our Village elders have focused on atmospherics so long (who’d you like to have a beer with, or did he say “terrorist” and such nonsense) that it becomes harder and harder for them —  or their juniors, wallowing in the same mire — to hear, actually to notice, what’s happening right in front of them.

One last thought:  it doesn’t even take malice, nor is it a mark of stupidity, sloth or professional incompetence to fall into this trap.  Group-think happens not because (or not only because) Roger Ailes sends down a memo.  It’s a natural human trait to pay attention to those who do what you do, or hope to.  Reporters read other reporters.  They — we, for I sometimes commit acts of journalism — drink at the same bars. We talk — just like everyone else.   We’ve all, I think, experienced us doing this to ourselves in some context or other.  The failure comes in the inability to acknowledge the risk, and to take conscious action to challenge it.  There’s a lot of that going round these days.

*Biden — and his speech writers, of course — are not amateurs.  He’s a pro, and a much better master of rhetoric than often given credit for (see above).  His speeches are what they seem — expressions of his thought and feeling.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t crafted — which is no bad thing.  As John Kenneth Galbraith is rumored to have said “the treasured note of spontaneity critics find in my work usually enters between the sixth and seventh draft.”)

Image: Édouard Manet, The Funeral, ca. 1860.

Love that Dirty Water

April 19, 2013

Obligatory sound track here.

A couple of things:  I want to shout amen and amen to a couple of post here earlier today.  DougJ nailed it with his quote from Ron Brownstein — and even more so with his last line: “This is Jackie Robinson’s country, not Pam Geller’s.” Fuck yeah.*

Bernard reminds us that the political reflex simply gets it wrong in the face of the immediate emotional pressure of tragedy.  We’re fighting folks who are fucked up already. If we transform ourselves into the defensive doppelganger to that offensive failure, we don’t get safer; we get fucked up in our turn.  (And yes, though it doesn’t quite track in terms of sense, the sensibility of this poem is in my head as I write that line.)

And mistermix picks up on what I was going to write about in this post in re Lindsay Graham.  I’ll add just one thought. Speaking as a Boston guy, let me say that the last thing I want to do is honor this guy with anything like combatant status.  He’s not a warrior; he’s got no soldier ethos or ethics.  He’s fucking murderer who takes down kids for … I don’t know what.  Soldiers fight folks who can fight back, at the orders of authority constructed in a legitimate chain of command.  And yeah, I know that oversimplifies, and if the Brits had caught Adams and Jefferson and Washington they’d have dangled at the end of a rope as simple vandals and killers, but you get my drift.  This murderous child is no more a soldier than is my cat, and has less moral capacity.  He’s a criminal, and I want him to face the full material and ceremonial weight of the law.  Anything else in some measure validates a claim to some greater significance.

Dr_Deijman’s_Anatomy_Lesson_(fragment),_by_Rembrandt

That was the bedrock of my loathing for the “War on Terror” and its apotheosis in the Iraq War, the first feeling experienced before any consideration of what a dumb idea it was or anything else.  You don’t elevate murderers to your level; they’re criminals, and should be represented, pursued, and, when caught, treated as such.  That Lindsay Graham hasn’t figured this out yet shows nothing more than that he is hopelessly overmatched by the job he holds.

And now to the tone I want to bring to all this.  I’ve been enjoying — no, revelling — in the face my town is putting on right now.  Here’s one example, via Boston.com:

It was clear amidst the chaos Friday which was the hometown coffee chain.
On block after block of the Boston’s Financial District and Downtown Crossing, Starbucks shops went dark as the city locked down, spurred by a manhunt for the second marathon bombing suspect. Dunkin’ Donuts stayed open.

Law enforcement asked the chain to keep some restaurants open in locked-down communities to provide hot coffee and food to police and other emergency workers, including in Watertown, the focus of the search for the bombing suspect. Dunkin’ is providing its products to them for free.

“At the direction of authorities, select Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in the Boston area are open to take care of needs of law enforcement and first responders,” spokeswoman Lindsay Harrington explained via email.

And here’s another, from a brilliant blog post by Jim Dowd

Oh man, you screwed up, didn’t you?

Yes, your little RadioShack experiment for evil hurt and killed some people and got you the attention you were obviously so desperately seeking. Point for you there, asshole. But I get the sense you really don’t know what you’ve done here, do you? Are you from out of town? I have the strong sense that you are.

If that is the case, allow me tell you a little something about the city you screwed with. This town is not your run-of-the mill medium sized regional capital…

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? This small city produced both Stephen J Gould and Whitey Bulger.  This place gave us Leonard Nimoy and Mark Wahlberg.  Southie and Cambridge. Brookline and Brockton. This place will kick the screaming piss out of you, come up with a cure for having the screaming piss kicked out of you, give it to you for free, then win a Nobel prize for it and then use the medallion to break your knuckles. See what I’m talking about?

Read the whole thing. Delicious. Righteous.

One more thing.  I’m still thinking about my friends in my old place, trying to comfort their kids in the basement while bombs and guns were going off in earshot.  I’m thinking about them while trying to figure out how to write something, anything even vaguely printable (a low bar in this day and age, I’ll admit) in reaction to the deep thoughts of one Nate Bell, a Republican Arkansas state rep, who tweeted:

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR 15 with a hi-capacity magazine.

Yo, Nate, you pathetic waste of carbon! Hey Nate, possessed of all the wit of my old pet rock!

MSKG - De idioot bij de vijver - Frits Van den Berghe (1926)

Hey, Asshole! Call on me. I can answer…

And I do:  None.  No one.  In Boston, we actually have enough sense to realize that all the armed men and women along the marathon route couldn’t — and couldn’t have been expected — to stop a murderer with a pressure cooker in a bag.

We recognize that when thugs take down a cop (armed) sitting in his car, that gun didn’t help.  And we know damn well, and are grateful, that we had some damn well trained and equipped first responders taking great personal risk to keep us safe from those thugs — and the last thing they needed was some idiot(s) with a rifle running around playing cowboy while they were on the job.

Oh — and we know too that the people most at risk from such a gun in the house are the folks who live in the house; that acts of vicious and inexplicable murder of strangers are rare — horrible, but uncommon — but suicides and accidents and domestic violence are much less so, and we’d like to keep the body count down in our neighborhoods thank you very much.  And, by the way, that’s what we do — as you’d know  if you’d check out any gun violence map that correlates to states with even remotely reasonable gun control, you fatuous simulacrum of  sentience.

In other words, you can hang on to your  projected feelings of inadequacy in Arkansas.  In Boston, we’ve got business to take care of.

Hell — I guess I’m rambling again.  Time to stop.  Night all.  Thanks again for a great day on the threads.

*Y’all know that I have this habit of bowdlerizing my profanity.  Take that as the measure of general pissed off-edness.

Images: Rembrandt van Rijn, Dr. Deijmans Anatomy Lesson (fragment), 1656

Frits van den Berghe,The Idiot by the Pond, 1926

Damn. Just Damn

April 19, 2013

Just checking in, really.

Some notes — first, thanks for good thoughts sent our way via twitter, Facebook and all the rest. My family and I are all OK.  We actually are visiting a very ill relative out of town, so nowhere near any of the mess.  All my wonderful students are OK, I believe, though I can’t imagine their state of mind.

I note that the MIT first year students who are finishing up their freshman year have now seen a terrorist attack, a murder on campus, a town in lockdown — and have as some of their formative childhood memories the fall of the towers when they were around six years old.  They’ve spent almost all of their lives watching the unfolding of wars of choice fought in the case of Iraq on false pretexts.  They seen torture routinized and the only political process they’ve witnessed is one of persistant anti-democratic manouvering pursued by one of the two major parties in our system.

They remain enormously optimistic (or at least have been in my conversations with them up till the last couple of days). They are phenomenally smart, gifted, optimistic. I damn well hope they stay so.  We need them.

Die_Fleißmedaille_Waldmüller_Kopie_um_1830_ÖMV

Next:  I’m heartsick at the death of the MIT police officer.  I am for the marathon victims as well of course, and more abstractly for the dead on the street in Iraq, in Mogadishu, in…  But I’m like almost everyone, I think; those losses that strike closest to home color the emotions in a particular way.

Campus cops have a strange, really difficult job:  they have to both police and protect in a hothouse setting full of young (and often insufficiently wise older) folk who are not always sure that the rules and norms of the wider world are more than advisory.  Our force at MIT manages that balancing act really, really well, especially given their charge within a university whose traditions that include translocating cop cars to, shall we say, interesting coordinates.*  From the report it sounds like our man was gunned down, really just executed, and I couldn’t be more enraged nor heartsick.  I’ll save for a different post the political point I think most of you can probable guess. This isn’t the time.  But you know I’m thinking it.

More close to home stuff.  One of the graduate students in my department, a really sweet, good guy, turns out to have been long time friends with the Richard family and their eight year old son, Martin, killed  in Monday’s bombing.  The connections which bind us all run through all kinds of chance links, but through that pathway that already horrific loss comes closer.  Any murder is hateful, but the killing of kids….I’m not going to write down the words that flow through my head as I cycle back to that.  But I can tell you that, however irrational it may be, my sense of wretched, futile anger ramped up when I learned of the loss refracted through the sorrow of someone I know.

That student and other friends of the family have set up a fund to help the Richards directly — the intention is to cover medical expenses, funeral costs, and whatever else it takes to get through the various horribles coming up over the next while. I’ve thrown a bit that way, and I offer the link up here if anyone feels so moved.  The “One Fund” to offer help to those affected by the bombings (and, I’d guess though I don’t know, those affected by last night/today’s evens) is here. I’d note that folks in town and around the country have already been phenomenally generous, and I’ll add my private thanks to the much grander and more official ones I’m sure will follow.

Last utterly meaningless coincidence.  The manhunt in Watertown going on as  I write this is right smack in the middle of the neighborhood I lived in until 2009.  My wife just picked up a facebook post of a couple of hours ago from  the friends to whom we sold our apartment.  They were as of that time  hiding down in the basement with their two kids.  They’ve been there all night, since they heard the explosions, and they are trying to figure out how to get the little one to sleep, while easing the fear in their older child.  Again, close to home.

I write all this aware that around the world what is striking me as an utter derangement of the way life ought to be is simply the status quo.  I know that the US in general is a phenomenally lucky country, spared so much of the horrors visited on folks around the world — sometimes by the explicit policy and actions of the United States of America. (No need to shout DROOOOONES at me, folks).  And you know what?  I think mine is the right reaction.  This stuff is wrong, unacceptable, to be pushed back at home and everywhere.

I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

I thank everyone for their good wishes, your anger,  humor, and perhaps as much as anything else, your simple presence. It’s good to be able to shout, and not simply into the void.  Tip of the hat to y’all — and hug those you love, two footed and four, spend time talking to folks…do all that human stuff.

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_Le_Moulin_de_la_Galette

*Other first responders are not immune, either.

Images:  Ferdinand Waldmüller, The First Day of School, 1830

Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1875

 

Stray Boston Marathon Bombing Notes

April 15, 2013

Theodore_Robinson_-_Beacon_Street,_BostonHey everyone.

Anger. Grief. Frustration. Rage. Sorrow.

Been cycling through those for the last hour or so, ever since my wife shouted down stairs to check Twitter.*

We’re all OK — thanks for the expressions of concern for Boston Balloon-Juicers in John’s thread.  [Anne Laurie -- check in, please.] I live close to the Marathon route and about 2-3 miles from the finish line, and you can hear the sirens going back and forth, but no one in my house is fit enough to take part in the event, and we didn’t stir ourselves to watch up in Coolidge Corner either.  (Some benefits to sloth there are, Yoda says.)

I just had a walk with my son and his friend ninja-ing behind and around me.  It was astonishing.  There were lots of people on the streets between my house and the little park and pond we often stroll around.  Everyone — and I really do mean just about everybody — was walking with their heads down, peering at a smart-phone screen.  I’ve never seen anything like it; there was a kind of hunger for news, for connection, for … perhaps a reminder that the person holding the phone was both still here and connected to others in town.  I was doing the same, reading the comments on John’s post.  When I got to the end, I hit refresh and read the next twenty, a cycle that took me through the half hour walk.

Despite the head-in-screen hunger, folks were eager to make eye-contact.  Boston isn’t quite New York in its studied avoidance of direct gaze, but we’re not by reputation exactly the most outgoing, hey-shucks-how-are-ya-stranger kind of place either.  But today, we were nodding at each other, saying a couple of words of greeting, even being welcomed, as I was at one corner, to eavesdrop openly on a phone conversation one young woman was having, describing the way the explosion looked from where she saw it — a tube of smoke straight up, then blossoming out.  Her two friends were with her, and we kind of ducked and shrugged at each other, and I just listened while someone narrated the event.

I stopped to talk briefly with two runners from the event, a couple.  They had both made it most of the way, but were stopped, of course, as soon as word of the bombs passed, and were walking to the apartment belonging to the female half of the pair.  I asked them if they were OK, and they were glad of an excuse to stop and repeat (perhaps to themselves) that they were, that they’d turned safely away from the disaster.  I asked them if they needed help.  It was kind of a stupid question on the face of it, as they were both hale and walking towards the comfort of home — but for all that I winced inside as I fumbled the question, they seemed glad of being asked, though indeed there was nothing they needed, at least not that I had to give.

The two of them were moving strongly.  The woman was wrapped in one of those metallized blankets they hand out, and she looked a little more bent over than her companion, but it was clear to me that they had pretty much run a marathon and were doing OK. But there faces  were grim, fallen — nothing like you see in my part of town every year but this one.  Usually, even the folks who really strain across the line get that “I did it!” look.  This year, not a chance.

I’m sad as hell, of course, especially as the expected-but-hoped-against reports of deaths as well as injuries are coming in.  And I’m enraged: how the fuck dare some assholes do this to these people, to my town, to all of us.

I have no idea who did this, of course, and I’m not going to begin to speculate.  I am going to note, with my usual historian’s reflex, that the disruption of civil society by thugs who crave notice and power is not a unidirectional process.  We’ve dealt with fuckers like this in the past — see the 19th century anarchist tradition, or the abortion bombers, the inept Weather folk, or McVeigh and his penumbra of deadly idiots.  The Europeans have had it worse.  Enemies internal or external may seek to derange us.  We get to decide the timing and thoroughness of their failure.

Last notes:  best news I’ve had so far, beyond that of family and nearby friends being OK is that all my current graduate students check in fine.  I hope the same is true for all those close to you (and me!).  And my deepest sympathy and regard for those caught up in the blast, their families, loved ones, and their circles of community.

*Oh brave new world and all that. It literally did not occur to either of us to check the actual TV until a friend came over to drop off her son for a play-date and wanted to check the up-to-the-second stuff.  It truly never crossed my mind.  I think back to when Challenger blew up, and the speed with which I got the ‘tube up, and its one more measure of how swiftly our lines of communication and connection have shifted.

Image:  Theodore Robinson, Beacon Street, Boston, 1884


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