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PSA: Ignore the news

Just a brief reminder that news is bad for you. No, seriously: publicly available news media in the 21st century exist solely to get eyeballs on advertisements. That is its only real purpose. The real news consists of dull but informative reports circulated by consultancies giving in-depth insight into what's going on. The sort of stuff you find digested in the inside pages of The Economist. All else is comics. As there's an arms race going on between advertising sales departments, the major news outlets are constantly trying to make their product more addictive. And like most other addictive substance, news is a depressant, one fine-tuned to make you keep coming back for more.

When a particular incident like today's bombing of the Boston marathon kicks off a news cycle, a common pattern asserts itself. First, there's photographic evidence and rumour. Then there's some initial information—immediate numbers of dead and injured, scary photographs. But the amount of new information coming out tapers off rapidly after the first hour or two, and gives way to rumour and speculation. There probably won't be any meaningful updates for a couple of days: but the TV channels and newpapers have to fill the dead air somehow, to keep the eyeballs they've attracted on the advertisements, so they cobble together anything they can grab—usually talking heads speculating without benefit of actual information. Such speculation in turn increases anxiety levels and causes depression, bringing the onlookers back for more.

Which is why I am about to back away from the keyboard, stop looking for more updated news from Boston, and go swimming. Terrible though the bombings may be, we won't learn anything significant about the responsible parties for some time: and in the meantime I see no reason to allow my emotional state to be manipulated for the benefit of advertisers. (And neither should you, unless you're a Bostonian or a relative or friend of someone directly affected, in which case, you have my deepest sympathy. This goes for you, Dan.)

Update: And here's Bruce Schneier with some words of sense.

Additional update: The comments on this blog entry are not intended for wild speculation about the identity and motivation of the bombers; comments on those lines may be deleted, especially if I think they amount to hate speech directed against minorities.

229 Comments

1:

I've been doing less and less news recently, partly because its depressing, and partly because its all Thatcher, and mostly because I haven't yet found an adequate replacement for Google Reader.

2:

Feedly looks like it will be decent.

3:

I love how I post a blog entry about why news coverage is a toxic, addictive, depressant and the immediate discussion turns to a better way of drinking from the firehose ...

4:

Gwynne Dyer's latest column, on the principle that bad news will be inflated to fill the media space available, is timely. I suspect that we won't hear much about a possible Israeli-Iranian war or a hypothetical Second Korean War or the Euro crisis for the next week or two. Of course, as a syndicated columnist who has to write twice a week about something in current affairs, he is part of the system too even as he rails against it ...

5:

Can't say I necessarily agree with you on some of that Charlie.

In general you are correct in that most of the news is there to sell advertising, etc. That's manifest in a whole scree of stories "that say nothing to you about your life". Some geriatric granny driving into a shop front a city away from you doesn't have any impact on your life. Neither do most 'human interest' stories, much political backbiting, etc.

Indeed, even the specifics of which limbs got blown off which people, and how bystanders felt on seeing the Boston bomb don't actually matter to you. It's ghoulish.

What does matter is if this is a prelude to more bombs, etc. - eg who & why. Intelligent speculation, good, deep, research, etc. has value to you because it allows you to understand if your personal threat level has gone up.

Now, 'intelligent' and 'deep research' tend to be the things missing from modern news entertainment - but by demonstrating that those things are the things we value, we might get more of it.

So by all means turn off the pap, hyperbole, over emotional wailing; but turn on the intelligent speculation, etc. More "Weekend World", less "Breakfast News".

6:

I think it's telling that I'm (inadvertently) getting quicker and more solid updates via RT'd 1st/2nd hand tweets than I do from organised news dealers. nut just in disaster times.

I avoid watching the news.
Unless the anchor is hot.

7:

What does matter is if this is a prelude to more bombs, etc. - eg who & why. Intelligent speculation, good, deep, research, etc. has value to you because it allows you to understand if your personal threat level has gone up.

As you noted, this stuff is absent from most news coverage. Moreover, we don't know who, how, and why yet; we probably won't for some time.

Here, in one URL, is why I don't want to see much speculation on who did it in the first few hours. (If I had to bet on who did it, though, my money wouldn't be on North Koreans or Islamicists; given that it was Patriot day and a tax year filing date, and Massachusetts has something of a rep for being full of pinko commies in certain circles, my money is on crazy white guys with a political axe to grind: the provisional wing of the Tea Party, if you like. Honourable runner-up: an FBI entrapment operation gone horribly wrong, because if you go looking for idiots who can be incited to terrorism and incite them, sooner or later one of them will get over-enthusiastic and won't wait for you to supply the explosives they're supposed to be arrested in possession of.)

8:

Or some crazy was just really pissed off that they didn't BQ.

9:

Actually it can be frighteningly easy to pick out key factors to make informed speculation. A package on the floor, designed to take out legs with ball-bearing shrapnel sounds very like an anti-personnel IED device against patrols. Would be relatively easy to have a directory of the IED plans around and see if this fit known types (and thus known groups), all within the scope of a news service capabilities.

Alternatively, matching up dates to known flashpoints (your tax day, or NORKs birthday celebration, etc.) don't give you certainty, but they do if you useful percentages.

I wish news services would spend more time on this than interviewing 'non-eye witness X' for their feelings. I tag the decline of news services and the rise of news entertainment/advertising to the human interest fixation, rather than dispassionate data analysis. Its kind of why I switch away from TV/newspaper wall to wall coverage, and towards search based news aggregators.

I don't know about you, but I do have Google News searches setup to monitor the 'slow burn' news topics that might matter a lot - coronavirus, H7N9, climate change, peak oil - but which tend to matter as high impact/widespread events. I'd like even better 'intelligent monitoring' tools too.

10:

Thank you Charlie for saying almost exactly what I've thought about this topic for some time. It's not that there's "no news" or that being informed about the world is bad, it's that almost every single publicly available news source (and definitely every commercial one) is bad for all the reasons you say.

Thank you.

11:

publicly available news media in the 21st century exist solely to get eyeballs on advertisements.

Admittedly that was true for 20th century news (regardless if bought in Newspaper form or Radio or TV), since all these forms except government financed services relied and rely more on ads more than what you as consumer pay. This includes of course the Economist too.

12:

couldnt agree more.
Most newspapers are only worth reading backwards.
Check the weather, possibly check if there is anything worth watching on the tube and or nearby concerts and events. Then read the comics. The end.

Since the RSS subject already has been brought up I would love to get tips on some newsfeeds that actually offer something worth reading along the lines that you describe Charlie.

13:

Yes, that.

And the big thing that nobody seems to be discussing, that actually allows you to understand if your personal threat level has gone up is: "How bad will the security response be?"

TSA goons are already unpleasant, and a constant low-level hazard; how much hate- and propaganda-filled news can they absorb before they are actively dangerous?

Maybe we should ask Peter Watts.

14:

As far as I can see, Guardian doesn't link to the original essay properly, which is three years old: http://dobelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Avoid_News_Part1_TEXT.pdf

One's PDF, the other's the Guardian. Pick your preferred vice.

15:

While it is EXTREMELY obvious that, erm, Russians have nothing to do with this act, I am sure I will meet unusually cold welcome upon arrival in Dulles International from Sheremetyevo airport this Thursday.

And I feel very sorry that this was one of my first thoughts when I saw the headline.

16:

Whatever happened to that good old word "bomb"?

At what point, exactly, is a bomb no longer "improvised"? When it is dropped from an airplane? When it is a standard-issue anti-personal mine?

17:

Thoughts with families of bomb victims in Iraq (55), Afghanistan (37), Somalia (30), Syria (18), Pakistan (4) and USA (3) of April 15th 2013.

It takes a tragedy culturally close to home to even be able to mention ongoing tragedies (often of the West's making) in other places we don't bother to really understand.

18:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (the Author of Black Swan, not the thing with Natalie Portman, but the book about statistics) said it too: Ignore the News. It's just a long list of depressing things and ignores all the good things that happen all the time. Depressing, and let's be honest: My life doesn't improve if I read about a bombing in Boston. It's literally completely irrelevant. In the time that I typed this answer, hundreds of people all over the globe have died, and a lot of these deaths would have been preventable.

19:

Whatever happened to that good old word "bomb"? At what point, exactly, is a bomb no longer "improvised"?

Jargon marches on. The implication seems to be that 'improvised explosive devices' are used by Those Naughty People while Our Heroic Armed Forces use, well, something else.

It's not factually true, of course; plenty of people we don't like use military issue explosives. And the US military trains its soldiers how to make traps out of whatever they might have in the field - the manual is openly available in many military surplus stores in the US (I have no knowledge about the UK). But there's a constant need for fresh jargon as the old slogans and code words wear thin...

20:

The shameful truth, I believe, is that as long as you are a non-Muslim Russian of non-Middle-Eastern descent, you will find little to worry about.

If you are one or both of those, however, I hope you will find yourself in relatively enlightened company once you get past the airport, because your chances are quite high of encountering prejudice — or "profiling", as official prejudice is called — while passing through it.

21:

Wise words, Charlie. Enjoy your holiday and let other people worry. Or not.

22:

Charlie,
thanks, I guess for the link, some quite horrifically uniformed tweets catalogued there.

23:

'improvised explosive devices' is a dirty word. That means more than bomb. and makes it more meaningful in the gut.

24:

There are two lessons I predict won't be learned:

1. Fighting the last war is a fool's game. The TSA security regime is the Maginot line. Instead of trying to deal with this by finding and prosecuting the people actually responsible, I predict that they will simply extend the line... put the TSA or some new umbrella Homeland Security subagency in charge of making public gatherings as unpleasant as long distance travel.

2. The things that make the US the US are the same things that make the US a target-rich environment for this sort of thing. There's lots of concentrations of people, and Americans are empowered by the liberal (in the broadest sense of the world) and enlightened (ditto) society they live in and create between them. I predict that the powers won't care, and will continue to destroy the US in order to save it, instead trying to find the root causes of the phenomenon.

25:

One point that is worth taking home here is that the current paranoia about various cultural/religious groups together with the Keystone Kops approach taken by the likes of the TSA, and quite a few police forces as well, hasn't helped one bit.

Nor has surrendering hard-won public freedoms, nor acquiescing to pervasive, invasive monitoring of everything we do. It doesn't catch terrorists, because terrorists are vanishingly rare and false positives massively outnumber true positives.

This needs pointing out repeatedly, insistently but above all, very very politely. Let us instead concentrate on catching actual criminals, not criminalising otherwise innocent people.

26:

The advertising industry does exist to sell eyeballs to advertisers. When I was in the industry I described my job as counting eyeballs. I worked for the research body for the outdoor advertising sector. Having said that, the advertising function is a non-optional component of commerce. Without it you wouldn't be able to have anything you hadn't grown or made yourself.

Advertising is used to pay for a lot of the services we take for granted. Councils make money from selling the right to build bus-shelters. The Internet as it currently works and commercial TV would not be feasible without it. I suspect that games theory models this. It is in everyones' interest to make sure that everyone else watches adverts.

There is another factor that makes broadcast news less than perfect. The need to attract eyeballs affects the choice of news that gets reported. "Newsworthy" topics get reported. In general that means things that are out of the ordinary. As a result the public has a seriously distorted idea of which risks they should be worrying about. Perceived risk is inversely proportionate to actual risk.

27:

Sigh.

I wish I'd done this last night.

28:

"The real news consists of dull but informative reports circulated by consultancies giving in-depth insight into what's going on. The sort of stuff you find digested in the inside pages of The Economist."

I agree, though it would be good to know where to find such material. Stratfor, for example, is pretty good for geopolitics analysis. Some venture capitalists (Mark Andreesen, Ben Horowitz) have good analysis of the tech industry on their blogs. What else? What do other people read?

29:

For real news our host directed us towards the economist and went on to note that it'll be a while before we get any facts beyond a simple explanation of what happened, and it's pleasing to note that as I type the Economist front page Boston bombing lead is "Questions but no answers". Just so.

30:

Read news. Not too much. Mostly long-form and investigative.

31:

"I love how I post a blog entry about why news coverage is a toxic, addictive, depressant and the immediate discussion turns to a better way of drinking from the firehose ..."

Addicts concerned about clean needles?

32:

I let my daughter watch Real Housewives of Somewhere or Other last night. For once, Mean Barbies Talking was less depressing than reality.

33:

Stratfor? You are joking I hope - much the same information as the Economist, but two weeks later and twenty times as expensive! And their obsession with geography means they tend to ignore the human dimension of politics.

The good stuff is out there, but you do have to dig for it - the International Crisis Group (who I used to work for) are probably the best in general terms, but for specific situations there will usually be a few key experts or expert groups who know what they are talking about. And they probably don't spend a lot of time talking to the media; their client audience will be elsewhere...

34:

...rely more on ads more than what you as consumer pay. This includes of course the Economist too.

I know that the Economist carries adverts (I'm a subscriber) but it's far from intrusive. The adverts tend to be a full page, rather than being mixed with pages carrying news. I had a flick through a copy on my desk, and I found 18 consecutive pages without a single advert...

Whatever happened to that good old word "bomb"?

It seems to now refer to "things dropped from aircraft"...

At what point, exactly, is a bomb no longer "improvised"?

When it wasn't designed as such, manufactured in a proper factory, or used as intended?

(e.g. taking a bunch of artillery shells, and burying them with a detonator rather than firing them from an artillery piece)

35:

Also, note this bit in the Guardian article:

This year's Boston Marathon, the 177th annual race in the city, was being staged in commemoration of the Newtown school shooting, in which 20 young children and six educators were killed in December. The finishing mile was dedicated to the victims of Newtown.

BTW, the possible motivations of the bombing are either quite clear, or the Guardian concentrated on the ones on one side. Or a combination of both. Also note Mr. Jones et al. are already speaking about "false flag".

Actually, getting some preliminary infos about likely targets both for personal information and to counter the inevitable discussions with the know-it-alls, and then waiting it out is all you can do.

If you're into masochism or want to strengthen your prejudices, looking for speculations by the usual suspects might be interesting, though hardly healthy; after reading the tweets in the "public shame"-link, actually, I somewhat feel like nuking someone, but it's not the Muslim world or the North Koreans...

There was a Marx quote on the banality of everyday news and the days where more happens than other times in years, I can't find it though.

36:

I am Caucasian and atheist, but I am a PhD in chemistry going to a conference.

And believe it or not, the USA visa application form has a special question for us: "do you have any education or skills in chemistry, production or handling of explosives, biological weapons, toxic compounds etc..." (I do not have a copy at hand).

Which means that to enter USA I was required to provide a list of my publications and CV and to wait two weeks for approval by Department of State.

In theory, I understand that. In practice, you do not need 5 years of education to prepare an IED, and given the abundance of explosives and trucks, I always wondered why there was only one Oklahoma City bombing.

37:

Information on this terrible event was scant at first. Thereafter, the signal-to-noise ratio underwent exponential decay.
Brace yourself for another round of (In)Security Theatre 101.

On a tangentially related note: an armed society is a polite society, therefore this sorry mess could have been prevented if each of those marathon runners were carrying at the very least a pipe-bomb or two.

38:

I've been using The Old Reader (theoldreader.com) as my GReader substitute. No complaints so far and they put kittie-pix on the 'site down' page when doing maintenance, which is nice.

Returning to the topic, 'if it's in the news then it's a million-to-one occurrence, therefore nothing that *you* need to worry about' is the mantra I'm drumming in to my kids as they start to take note of horrible headlines. This approach doesn't help my blood pressure whenever I encounter the latest update on some toxic blot like P**rs M*rg*n of course, but as our cousins across the water have very kindly taken him in (thanks guys!) that's a fairly rare occurrence these days.

Regards
Luke

39:

If, like me, you can't help compuslively looking at the news from yesterday, at least look at the things that 1. are being fairly reliably reported at this point and 2. are relevant to the general range of topics this web site examines, which is to say, the way people responded to the bombing, and the way Boston's infrastructure was once again brought to a halt.

Anecdote: I was nowhere near the area, but because I have an AT&T mobile, and AT&T's network was overwhelmed, my phone was offline, and it got people worried about me. Mobile networks in the USA are displacing landline phones, but regulation for emergencies has yet to catch up, and situations like this show it all too well.

40:

I've been using http://www.netvibes.com/ as a GReader substitute. It's got a few minor annoyances but overall I've been ok with it.

41:

Can't say that I'd hole out The Economist as an ideal example of "real news", given that the graphs would make Tufte cry over their low information content, and 80% of the pages are editorials for trans-national SWPLism, but other than that, this post is dead-on.

42:

I think the answer to why there haven't been more Oklahoma City-style bombings is that:
a) there aren't many people in the world who want to do that, and
b) if you're not a farmer and you're buying large amounts of ammonium nitrate, red flags go off here and there. Even in farming, ammonium nitrate isn't a massively used fertilizer, so unusual purchases of it do tend to stand out.

As for the improvised explosives manual, it might be useful to think of it as hazardous waste of the Cold War, generated by the CIA and other agencies. The problem with unconventional warfare is that it tends to proliferate, and as a society, we don't have great mechanisms for dealing with this issue. To be fair, I don't know if there *are* perfect mechanisms for getting people to forget such things. Based on WWII, I suspect that the most important method is to give people with the knowledge a more comfortable and non-violent way to live, so that they have good reasons to forget their wartime skills, and no reasons to remember.

43:

I tend to rely on the Economist for in-depth news (it's quite good, probably because it only publishes once per week and doesn't need to fill endless pages with filler); although I admit to watching BBC News 24 a lot at the gym - it doesn't have any advertising, and they mostly seem to go for "endlessly repeat the same thing" rather than "try to come up with something new"... but it's not exactly in-depth analysis :(

44:

@34:
>>Whatever happened to that good old
>>word "bomb"?

>It seems to now refer to "things
>dropped from aircraft"...

At the beginning of WWII, it was still reasonably common for some militaries to use the term "aerial torpedo." Meaning anything dropped from a plane that was intended to explode, not just dropped over water.

Then there was the "Bangalore Torpedo", also WW2 vintage. The British and American armies still stock them, though they use gobbledegook acronyms for them now.

45:

Here's what I do when there's a disaster like this.

1. Load wikipedia entry on disaster. Ususally will have a shell page within minutes.
2. Refresh every few hours to see updates.
3. Try and avoid other news sources.

The inflation of a few bits of rumor and allegations to fill hours of airtime is ridiculous. Couldn't agree with you more.

46:

@41:
b) if you're not a farmer and you're buying large amounts of ammonium nitrate, red flags go off
--
For a while the only way I could get it was "laboratory grade." Then it started showing up on eBay at reasonable prices.

Homeland Security is trying to get legislation enacted to require licensing to purchase, keep, or sell ammonium nitrate; the proposed ruleset is actually more restrictive than that for dynamite. Amusing, considering not long ago I could buy the stuff in 50 pound bags at any hardware store or home center...

Besides spreading it in your garden or making bombs, ammonium nitrate has various uses for DIY rocket propellants, several metal blueing formulations, etc.

47:

I didn't know about that requirement for US visas, but it is one of the stupidest security measures I've heard of. If you are bringing ill intentions, you just check the box for "No", right?

I can see why they would want to keep track of people with experience in the production of biological weapons, in particular, but those people would be few enough in number that one would hope US intelligence services are already keeping track of them.

I suppose they just take advantage of any excuse to collect additional information that will go into a database somewhere on the remote chance that it will ever be useful.

48:

Agree. Today's media are increasingly successful at making 'news' more addictive. Instead of providing a concise summary of events, media parse each morsel of new 'news' - without regard to its salience - forcing viewers/readers to return. (Classical random-interval reward conditioning at its best/worst.)

BTW, in 'Existence', David Brin touches on bad-news addiction: one of his characters is a hell-and-damnation junkie. Makes sense to me. Don't know whether the DSM-IV lists this as a psychiatric disorder, but it should. (Might help rein in the media.)

To gmuir77 (44) re: Wiki - Thanks, excellent suggestion!

49:

I've been gradually weaning myself off the news teat for a good while now - first I stopped reading the local newspaper, then I stopped watching television when the analogue signal was turned off, then I stopped reading the Guardian.

I couldn't understand why people were so unhappy when Google Reader was sent to the great datacloud in the sky...why would anyone want something that constantly tells you what's irredeemably wrong about the world?

News stories hit you enough when you are doing other things. I found out Margaret Thatcher had died, about twenty minutes after it was announced, on an Iain Banks forum [still no good news on that story, nor is there likely to be], and the Boston bombings about an hour after it happened on a diecast model aircraft collectors forum

why go looking for news when it invariably finds you?

50:

Well, as for USian immigration papers, the consternation is not that new...

I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, 'I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.' Or, 'I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into Mr. Harding at the earliest opportunity.' Or again, 'Yes, I am a[Pg 5] polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.' There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.

Now that is a model of the sort of foreign practice, founded on foreign problems, at which a man's first impulse is naturally to laugh. Nor have I any intention of apologising for my laughter. A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himself.
- G.K. Chesterton "What is America?"

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27250/27250-h/27250-h.htm

Where old G.K. is one of those guys you read to disagree with...

51:

Checking in from a few miles away from the crime scene, I can give you one other reason not to obsessively follow the news reports on a situation like this: most of what gets broadcast, even from the fairly reputable channels, turns out to be just plain wrong. From yesterday's reports:

It was reported that numerous other bombs had been found, and either blown up or disabled. In fact, not one of the suspicious packages that was found in the area turned out to be a bomb.

It was reported that cell phone service near the scene had been deliberately disabled, to prevent remote detonation of the nonexistent secondary bombs. Nope, it was just overloaded.

A brief, harmless fire at the John F. Kennedy memorial library was reported as a related incident. It wasn't.

And that's what you got from the *reputable* sources. Go to the Murdoch-owned New York Post and you could read about twelve deaths from the bombing (there were two), and the Saudi suspect under heavy guard at a local hospital (who did not exist).

And so it went. The local broadcast TV channels preempted their normal programming completely for disaster porn, combined with breathless, and utterly baseless, speculation on the identity and motives of the perps. (You got some of this even on the BBC.) The public interest would arguably have been better served if they'd stuck to their scheduled fare of comedy, song, and dance shows. It's not like anyone would have been any less informed.

52:

Today's media are increasingly successful at making 'news' more addictive. Instead of providing a concise summary of events, media parse each morsel of new 'news' - without regard to its salience - forcing viewers/readers to return. (Classical random-interval reward conditioning at its best/worst.)

The comments in this blog are that also, are they not?

I just found Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy. (An Intro to Variable Rewards). Interesting, though I don't know how accurate its summary of the psychology is.

53:

I agree wholeheartedly.
Personally speaking, "the news" as opposed to the lifestyle crap which bulks the papers out, is something I have found increasingly useless over the years as I learn more about how the world works.

"Oh dear, another story about a corrupt politician/ dog bites man/ famous person dying/ meaningless disaster in a far away country. How predictable, nothing I haven't seen before."

Meanwhile, on lots of blogs, I can find out more and more useful information on things that are going on, and often better and wider discussion.

54:

THANK YOU. I positively despise the news. Just being exposed to it makes you stupider. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

55:

I understand the ill effects, and completely understand the value of the deeper analysis one finds in better venues after a little bit of data collection and analysis has had time to happen, but I consider the "bury your head in the sand" response to realtime news incomprehensible.

This stuff often matters. A lot.

56:

My sense at the time was that the broad milieu of folks who had some sympathy for the point of view of the Oklahoma City Christianist terrorists were genuinely appalled at the slaughter. It seemed to put a damper on the "militia" thing and all of that for a while.

57:

I pinched the link from Stina's newsfeed on FB, I think it makes some on the money points about why we don't see lots more terrorist acts:
http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-boston-marathon-bombing-keep-calm-and-carry-on/275014/

58:

As usual, The Onion nails it:
http://www.theonion.com/articles/this-is-a-tragedydoes-it-really-matter-exactly-how,32076/

To think, these poor victims have not even been buried yet, and some people out there are already quibbling over little details like how many people have died or what the basic facts of this tragedy even are. Can’t they see it’s not the time for that discussion? After all, when something awful like this happens, you’re not thinking about getting the facts right, or adhering to the basic standards of reporting, or providing people with the correct information they desperately need in a time of crisis, or respecting the families of those involved, or treating human life itself as sacred, or acting like professionals, or thinking about anything other than the amount of page views your story will attract on the internet. You’re not thinking about any of that stuff, at least I’m not. To dwell on all that stuff would just be crass. [...]

59:

Ammonium Nitrate is a very widely used fertiliser in Europe. There's a different style of farming, with higher crop yields than the US average, while I understand that ammonium nitrate is relatively cheap to manufacture if you have ample supplies of natural gas.

I think there were more controls on availability in Northern Ireland. Urea has more nitrogen content that ammonium nitrate (which makes a difference to transport cost) and is not itself an explosive: it needs to be nitrated.

I've had under my control enough ammonium nitrate and diesel oil to considerably exceed the scale of the Oklahoma City bombing, but ANFO needs a booster charge to initiate the detonation. (I learned that from Blue Peter).

60:

Did my post get eaten?
....or did I make a boo-boo?
( Send/recieve isn't working to well @ the moment )
And I was careful to rule OUT the biggest "terror" group(s) @ the moment, because they always claim responsibility & - (As of posting this) no-one has done that ....

@ 59
Yes, it's called AmaTOL or AmmonAL - (Toluene or Aluminium powder, respectively) - see also RN WWII shells for 15" guns, ahem.

Also, my other remark:
The dead & the lightly injured are lucky - what (as always) sickens me are the others, thise who will now have to continue living/existing with limbs missing, or eyes, or other permanent life-changing injuries.
This the truly vile outcome of this sort of incident.
Euw.

61:

ANFO mix is widely used in quarrying as it's a cheap medium explosive that's simple to prepare and easily handled as a slurry mix dispensed from a tanker using pumps. It's normally initiated with a couple of kilos of gelignite at the bottom of each drillhole.

I believe that commercial ammonium nitrate sold for fertiliser use is now compounded with an inhibitor of some kind that completely doesn't stop ANFO from high-ordering but muchly reduces its explosive effect. I suspect there are backyard treatments that will remove some or all of this inhibitor if one was to search in the Usual Places for such information.

62:

Well, it is all a bit more complicated. The visa application requires you to describe your education in detail. And the university I have attended has a faculty which is considered the best place in Asia to study explosives and chemical warfare. No kidding, it has many foreign students, mainly from China.

The silly thing is that you already need a special permission to leave country if you have graduated from this faculty.

63:

Bostonian (well, Somervillian) here. As soon as I heard the news -- and especially the small casualty count -- I tried my damnedest to ignore all the news sources. Giving them eyeballs just encourages their terrible behavior (and any real information won't be available for at least a day or so.)

I've been limiting my consumption of "daily news" for a few years now, and I think it has made me a happier person.

Oh, here's an interesting exercise: How would the media reaction have differed if this had been one of our numerous gas leaks gone bad instead, with a similar body count?

64:

Greg, your previous post got moderated (while I was asleep -- I'm several time zones away from GMT right now) because you ignored the injunction NOT to engage in wild speculation about whodunnit.

65:

And, for the love of the FSM, do not read the comments on any US news site. I live in California, and even I am cheering on North Korea at this point...how people can be that willfully stupid and hate filled and get on line is a mystery to me.

66:

SEMI-INFORMED SPECULATION

(In other words, take this with a pinch of salt ...)

We know this morning that the two bombs were assembled using pressure cookers as containers, packed with black powder and nails/other shrapnel. They are believed to have been planted in trash cans, probably in black nylon backpacks or duffel bags. And no group has claimed responsibility.

I don't know the size of the bombs, but I find it hard to imagine them weighing less than 5kg, and probably closer to 10-15kg -- pressure cookers aren't light and as I understand it the typical US sizes are 6 quart or 10 quart. With a 50/50 mix of powder and shrapnel we can approximate the weight to 2kg/quart. Pressure cookers are also a bit bulky, even if you remove the handles.

The devices were planted right in the centre of Boston, with parking restrictions in place to make room for the marathon. That alone tells me that the bomber(s) were limited in what they could transport; they'd almost certainly have used the subway to come in, because parking in that part of town is nearly impossible at the best of times.

The date of the attack may be significant insofar as it was Patriot's day -- the anniversary of the first battles of the US war of independence -- and also Federal income tax return filing day. It also fell 3 days before the 20th anniversary of the ending of the Waco siege.

Finally, I'd like to note the similarity to the Admiral Duncan bombing of 1999.

Putting it all together my best guess is that it's the work either of an individual or more likely a very small cell (1-3 people) because of the need to carry two bulky/heavy devices on the subway.

I think them most likely to be political extremists with an anti-tax or anti-Federal agenda. Probably not local to Massachusetts, and probably involved in fringe survivalist politics for some time (hence aware of the risks of chatter about their plans being picked up). Their motive is probably the usual strategy of tension/attempt to stir up a general revolt by inducing a clampdown by the demonically-motivated moustache-twirling federal authorities.

Boston was picked because of some combination of (a) a marathon is a soft target -- nearly impossible to secure, (b) the marathon was dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook (which may in turn cause it to be seen in some quarters as an attack on the Second Amendment), (c) decadent pinko-commie New Englanders had it coming, (d) significant dates above.

I shall now stop speculating.

67:

So far the biggest known facts of the Boston news have been proven untrue. The main known guy of Oklahoma City brought ammonium nitrate in truck loads and sold drums of it at at gun shows. Thats how he made his living for years. It is now cut with a other fertiliser. In the early to mid 1960's, not far from the middle of America, a John Bircher knew that the US government was run by commies. He set up a training camp that had classes in ULDs, making machine guns and other terrorist things. A all American peoples liberation army. People he trained were arrested with a UN security guard, prints of the UN and gallons of liquid cyanide. That was in the mid 1960's.

68:

Charlie @66: One consideration to mix into your semi-informed speculation is that there are a lot of parking spots very close the Boston Marathon finish line. They are not on the street, they are under the various shopping malls, office buildings, and hotels near Copley Square, e.g. the Boston Sheraton Hotel and Towers where Noreascons have been held in the past.

In fact, the Marathon weekend would provide plenty of screening if someone wanted to drive into the Back Bay ahead of time, park in (say) the Copley Place parking garage overnight, then leave with the bulk of the visitors a day or two after the event.

I'd think you'd want two people placing the bombs, but it might be possible to manage with one person, possibly even running back to a car or a hotel room to pick up the second bomb at some risk of failure due to the first one being found before the second one was dropped in place.

Note that although the Green Line (underground tram) stations generally don't have any provision for passengers crossing from one platform to the other, the platforms are low, close to track level. I certainly saw people crossing between platforms for no apparent good reason when I worked in an office in the Copley Place atrium.

69:

There actually is a logic behind the questions. If you check "yes" they won't issue the visa. If you check "no" and the authorities find out you lied it gives them grounds to deport you. It's a bit like what they did to Al Capone; they couldn't nail him on the bootlegging so instead they nailed him for failing to pay income tax on the bootlegging.

70:

What about tax-funded news outlets?

71:

While I tend to agree with you, my wild, uninformed speculation is that this is backup plan #6 for the North Koreans, in case the missile failed to launch on their holiday of April 15th. The missile failed to launch, as did their next five alternative plans, but when their one agent in Boston set off the bombs, someone with sufficient clout in Pyongyang realized just how incredibly bad an idea it was, disavowed the whole thing, and dumped the agent. There's now one incredibly burned North Korean agent somewhere in the greater Massachusetts area trying to figure out what to do next, since he has no solid evidence that he was acting for North Korea...

Please note, I give this a probability of approximately zero to about three decimal places. This follows up the wild, uninformed speculation by the US media that there would be a North Korean missile launch on April 15, and that didn't happen.

72:

Charlie @ 64 - thanks - I thought I was being careful - obviously not careful enough!
& @ 66
IF I can get this right (erm) we can rule OUT sveral possibilities, right away, especially since no-one has claimed "responsibility".
The one tiny bit of good news seems to be that a UXB has been recovered - it's amazing what forensics should be able to extract in information from such a find.

heteromeles @ 71
Thanks for the light relief!
Actually, deliberately turning away from Boston to N Korea .... I find the disclosure that Kim Jong-Un had been invisible for a week, whilst all the bluster wennt out, very interesting. His father's generals are in charge, & he's the figurehead, who has to stay alive & in front of them, whilst ... doing what ????
Trying do defuse (oops, not a good metaphor) the situation? Ensconce himself in more secure power?
Maybe, even, try to improve their economic situation? Unlike K-I-S or K-J-I, he has been to the "West", he must know what a hole his nation is in, but he's surrounded by all these generals.
What would YOU do in such a situation????

73:

Even in farming, ammonium nitrate isn't a massively used fertilizer, ...

Depends on the meaning of "massively used". When I was young (teenager) my family farmed over 100 acres of mostly corn (maize) and cotton. We bought ammonium nitrate by the truckload during planting season.

74:

The War nerd speculates it may be a Pakistani group but it's only a guess.
(Link is a temporarily unlocked link to a subscriber only article, will be valid for 48 hours)

75:

I haven't seen a clear statement that the explosive was black powder, and it is more likely to be one of the modern substitutes, which are rather safer. Actual black powder is much harder to get because of the stricter safety rules on storage and transport.

It was a black powder substitute that was being made at the factory in Colebrook that blew up three years ago. It gets widely used by the military in pyrotechnics; they have shifted from black powder to the modern substitutes.

76:

As an Australian (and therefore someone who has grown up in the shadow of a tightly controlled news media throughout my lifetime) I gave up reading the newspapers and watching the television news years ago. I have "our ABC" on the news ticker (although I'm thinking of dropping it - most of what Aunty gives these days is recycled gumpf from News Limited due to some political gimcrackery during the Howard era) and generally I'll look through the headlines and pick out the articles which look interesting. Which isn't many.

Currently I'm staying with my parents (who get the daily paper for our city, and who watch the ABC news on a nightly basis). I'm reminded once again of why I don't bother with either of these myself. Most of the news these days doesn't pass the Rice-Davies test (i.e. Am I able to listen to it without countering each and every assertion with "well, he would [say that], wouldn't he?" or the equivalent thereof?).

77:

(Wild rash guessing re: Boston bomber. US native, male, probably white, probably Christian-raised at least. "Causes" most likely to be anti-Obama, anti-gun-safety-laws, anti-federalism, and possibly anti-abortion as an outside chance. Probably solo, and probably unknown to FBI prior to this point, although local law enforcement may well have received some complaints about him.)

78:

Greg.Tingey @72.

What would I do?

I’d like to think that I would try to stay alive whilst I worked myself into a genuinely stable situation personally and then was able to either effect some form of gradual economic reform without rocking the boat politically, a la China, or worst case for me, engineer a way to North Korea’s political set up to catastrophically fail leading to a short bloody revolution followed by re-unification with the South a la Romania. Option two very likely sees me personally executed in all the excitement.

What I think I would actually do would be to go slowly mad.

79:

It sounds a bit too much like a horse-racing tip. Not outright ridiculous, but all rather vague. Heck, the only link with Pakistan seems to be that pressure-cooker bombs get used there.

80:

Re the Bomb/IED sub thread.

Growing up we had in the house a Penguin paperback published in the early 1940's on Bomb Making. Unfortunately I never read it before my mother passed it on to someone more deserving. [that the book existed was enough for me.] What never failed to amuse me was the Note on the title page,
"When you have read this book, please leave it at a Post Office for some one else to read and safe paper."

Context is everything.

Apparently my father as a lad regularly made explosives; in suburban London, probably sending the chickens in the garden to an early grave. I don't know whether he learnt this skill through father son bonding or off a school friend.

Maggie

81:

The worst week I ever had was immediately after 11 Sep 01, when us DOD civil servants were sent home from work for security concerns. Instead of being able to at least keep my tiny cam (cogs got teeth; cams are eccentric!) in the giant security machine running, all I could do was watch the endless reruns of the Twin Towers. My mother was doing the same thing, and went into a deep depression; I think this kind of blanket grief-mongering should be loudly and roundly condemned.

Re the public security response: The locals might do a knee-jerk reaction, but the FBI has gotten a LOT better since Oklahoma City and 9/11. They'll be doing the forensics and talking as little as possible to the gaping maw of the media beast. Information sharing between all the 3-letter agencies is also much better than is was 15-20 years ago.

However, there seems to be little evidence to point to a culprit at this point. The construction of the bombs was compentent but not at all unique; recipes for this sort of bomb are reportedly easily available to the anarchist "community". More may be learned from what we can reconstruct of the detonators. The proliferation of CCTV (not nearly as prevalent in the US as the UK, from what I understand) may be helpful, along with the proliferation of cell cams.

I absolutely agree that we should ignore the television media as much as possible; the ONLY thing they're good for (apart from comic relief) is to be notified that "something" happened. Here in Germany, BBC World, France 24 and Al Jazeera have better reportage than CNN, et al. And if I'm ever at a scene and some reporter sticks a mike/camera in my face, he's gonna eat it! Ghouls.

82:

Over recent years modern popular news media reportage has tended towards being directed at people who already KNOW the sort of thing that they want to be told. In essence The NEWS is intended to reinforce prejudice rather than inform the Reader/Viewer/Listener...and of course this makes the PayLoad of Advertisng ever more effective as it is directed to the receptive target population. And that’s before you take into account political censorship on a Nation-state level.

I've noticed a tendency on internet 'News' sites to reduce the text to the equivalent of sound bites whist increasing the Pretty Picture content to bulk out any given NEWS. Actual Journalism has been reduced to a kind of add on extra on many popular news sites but it can still be found as can expert opinion so I tend to use the 'News Papers ' as a sort of handy gateway to any given event which 'gateway ' will also give me the political message - Torygraph/DailyHeil/ to Graniad - that they are pushing over any given event..Then I web search anything that interests me.

Of course I have the 'private browsing 'option up on Firefox but use DuckDuckGo as well as Google for web searches.

I'm sure that many of us use a similar research pattern and, of course, the nature of the question asked does tend to determine the result.

So... this morning I read this thread rather rapidly and dipped into my rather tattered memory that told me that, long before "The Anarchists Cookbook " and similar such smug Revolutionary stuff of "The Summer Of Loath " that was the counterblast to the " Summer Of Love " - Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair indeed! Phooey! To that! - It was fairly easy for anyone who could read to find the formulations for quite a few explosives. Any Public Library in the U.K in the 1950s 60s when I was a boy had old stocks almanac and useful " How To Do It " type books that often dated back to pre the First world war let alone the Second and then there were the reprints of old Victorian Era Tomes in a similar vein. It was in such Compendium of 'Useful Projects that A Boy Can Do ' that I found the formulas for all sorts of Fireworks and also for Black Powder/Gunpowder and in a slightly more advanced Book, that was intended for slightly older boys, I found the formula and methodology for the manufacture of nitro-glycerine.


Way back then you could buy small quantities of the standard ingredients for gunpowder in any high street chemists shop whilst the ingredients for nitro-glycerine were fairly easy to obtain. Happily I came to the conclusion that you would need to be insane to try to make nitro-glycerine at room temperature and without lab glassware but a few years later I did come across a newspaper report of a schoolboy in the UK who had manufactured a flask of the stuff and then carried the flask to school for his mates to admire.

It was at a first pass with a search engine whilst looking for that report that I came upon this...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYH8VNI0w-U


" A Livingston High School teacher is facing multiple charges after nitro-glycerine is found in her classroom. She also faces endangerment charges from an investigation the day before for providing chloroform to students to get high. "


I also found a site which I'm not going to link to here but here is a table of content...


" WARNING - These files are for study purposes only! I take absolutely NO
responsibility for loss of life or limb, or damage to property,
due to the improper use of these files. Anyhow...have at it!


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Rebel Alliance Megcatline ..................................... 1
Firebombs ..................................................... 1
Napalm ........................................................ 1
Match Head Bomb ............................................... 2
Fuse Ignition Firebomb ........................................ 2
Napalm Made Easy .............................................. 2
Gunpowder ..................................................... 3
Ammonal ....................................................... 3
Chemically Ignited Explosives (Exp 1-5) ....................... 4
Thermite Reaction ............................................. 4
Mercury (II) Fulminate ........................................ 5
Nitrogen Triiodide ............................................ 5
Cellulose Nitrate (Guncotton) ................................. 5
Acetone Hydrogen Explosive .................................... 6
Smoke, Smoke, Smoke... ........................................ 6
Plastic Explosives ............................................ 7
Creation of Thermite .......................................... 8
How to Make a 'Real' Pipe Bomb ................................ 9
Jug Band Bomb ................................................ 11
TNT (Trinitrotoluene) ........................................ 11
Nitroglycerine ............................................... 13
Dynamite ..................................................... 14
Detonating Dynamite and TNT .................................. 15
Bomb Containers .............................................. 15
Polish Flairs ................................................ 15
Household Chemicals and Their Composition .................... 16
Generating Chlorine Gas ...................................... 16
Chlorine and Turpentine ...................................... 16
Generating Hydrogen Gas ...................................... 16
Hydrogen and Chlorine ........................................ 17
Iodine ....................................................... 17
Grain Elevator Explosion ..................................... 17
Where to Find Chemicals ...................................... 17
Acetone Peroxide Explosive ................................... 18
Fertilizer/Hydrazine Liquid Explosives ....................... 19
RDX Explosive ................................................ 20
Mini-Compound Detonators ..................................... 21
Potassium Chlorate/Sugar Ignitor ............................. 23
Stink Bomb ................................................... 24
Cordite ...................................................... 25


The only surprising thing about the tragic event in Boston was that such events are still a rarity in the U.S.A. where there is no shortage of militent nutters of every type, kind and variety.

83:

The proliferation of CCTV (not nearly as prevalent in the US as the UK, from what I understand) may be helpful

If there's one thing more prone to be derailed by new technologies than SF, it's the detective and police procedural genre. Mobile phones must be used. And CCTV is so ubiquitous in the UK (particularly on private premises, but many of those will be able to see public areas) that first line crime investigation now has to consider not just knocking on doors but also checking tapes (well, hard drives these days).

(Scott and Bailey is pretty good at this side. It's also the only Police Procedural I know that's primarily female driven, and it has a nice sense of place, of not being London or the South.)

In the US, I suspect there'll be a lot of CCTV coverage of the area, just not per se by local law enforcement. I would expect every store in the area to be handing over their recordings. The problem is going to be spotting who might be carrying the devices from several thousand candidates, though if they're pressure cooker bombs as seems to be the case, that'll remove everyone without a large backpack/bag from consideration.

84:

@75:
Actual black powder is much harder to get because of the stricter safety rules on storage and transport.
---
Black powder is trivially easy to make; it's practically a rite of passage for children of a certain mentality. Shooting hobbyists make it to feed their rifles and cannon, and the rocket guys make it in large quantities.

To make black powder you need potassium nitrate and wood. Ammonium nitrate will work, though it's not as good. There are no restrictions on potassium nitrate in the USA; it's commonly found for $6 or $7 dollars a pound, packaged as "stump killer." You can make it yourself, but the classical process is lengthy and disgusting, though basically cost-free. Traditional black powder mixes include sulfur, but it's not mandatory.

Unless you find a practical way to prevent people from urinating and burning small quantities of wood, there's no way you can stop them from making black powder.

Commercially-made black powder is subject to regulation by the DOT and the ATF. There are also municipal and state regulations, usually guided by an NGO called the National Fire Prevention Association. But that doesn't stop an individual from making his own, any more than outlawing commercially-baked bread would stop someone from making their own from flour and yeast. It's not exactly rocket surgery.

As far as adding ball bearings to increase damage... a quick look at what those suckers cost makes me wonder "WTF?" when a handful of grade-zero Chinese hardware store hex nuts would work as well for the purpose.

85:

Actually, I have been thinking something similar for some time; even if NK is usually portraited as one of the last autocracies on earth, every dictator needs his underlings, shooting enemies might be bad for your health, you see, especially with lead and noise.

http://iweb.tntech.edu/cpardue/pregnant.html

So I guess we are more likely dealing with an oligarchy with the higher echelons of the military.

As for what I'd do, instigate economic growth and education, to get my country out of the Haiti valley of development, for years, Haiti was known both as the hellhole and the most stable country of the world, it's nice when it's so bad people can't realize it'd become better.

Get faulty filtering software from China. Get my intelligence guys excited about TOR et al., instigating a recruitment and education project out of scale with lots of competent dropouts. Get a communications infrastructure. Punish the lamers caught, I want a competent opposition, no trolls. Err, who was it who wrote "Big Brother Iron"? Karl Strauß, Carlo Strasser, can't remember the name.

Make some really heinous guy my second i!n command and let him do frequent press updates, so when the populace finally does "la revolucion", it's somebody else hanged upside down and flayed alive.

In the same vein, cultivate an alternate ID, so when the shit hits the fan, I'm not risking becoming a fish out of water on the run, but just assume the sleeper identity.

In the mean time, just as any North Eastern Asian nerd with a tendency for fat deposits, excel at Starcraft or Diablo and post on 4Chan. Or participate in obscure SF fan discussions.

86:

Personally I feel proud of the coverage so far. The crowd response was first-class, and the news media were restrained. They pointed out that anybody can read how to make a bomb on the internet. Obama's response was "terror but no drama." On NPR, it was "First story, Boston; next story, immigration reform."

I don't think the USA has any more "nutters" than anyplace else. My husband and I visited London the week after the bombs there.

87:

OGH is dead right about the "News". All I see of it these days is the teasers that they run, when I make a hash of fast forwarding through the adverts.

They seem to be a very USAian thing, because I don't remember seeing them in England. Little 10 second spots of the form: "Something in your house is on fire right now! We'll tell you what, at Ten."

88:

When it comes to events like this, I tend to watch the news for an hour or so, then turn it off once they've started to repeat themselves. In the morning I generally stick with NPR news, which doesn't usually keep going over the same story, and is more international and varied in what it covers. The broadcast network's morning shows are mostly fluff at the best of times, though CBS has improved with the addition of Charlie Rose, but having Oprah's best-friend tends to balance him with lighter stories.

I've never understood people who say "Oh, I never watch the news, it's too depressing." Might as well put your head in the sand. Sure a lot of the news media is garbage, but if you recognize that you can still get something out of it.


My take on Boston; home-grown, probably a single person.
I had written a little more, but don't want to get yellow flagged. Maybe later.

89:

m @ 80
I've got a copy ... somewhere or other ....

90:

IMHO OGH said that most news is a depressant, e.g. lowers CNS activity, not necessarily depressing.

Where the difference between stimulant and depressant is a somewhat muddy one, even in pharmacology. Interestingly, the examples that come to mind, e.g. D2 or alpha2 (ant-)agonists, are somewhat related with stress responses/arousal. Makes you wonder about the effects of bad news...

Somewhat off-topic, has anybody seen the fnords lately?

91:

You can make the darndest things go boom, like gold. But why bother? I still have a can of black powder from my shooting days. I bet you can still go to gun stores and buy it. Go to different stores over time and no one will notice. Not that long ago over here a neighborhood was cleared thanks to a smart but dumb student bringing a large bottle of homemade nitro to school. The smoke makes me think it was black powder. No detonators needed.

92:

Well, okay. I wasn't particularly responding to what Charlie had said about the news as a depressant, but to things I've heard people say who had no idea what was going on in the world. Though, yes, I suppose people prone to depression should avoid the news on bad days.

Did I mix my sports metaphors--should have said yellow carded?

93:

Personally, I'm not that much buying into his reasoning, especially for excluding the right-wing.

But than, he put me on "Four Kings", so at least it was good for something...

94:

greg @ 89
it was a pretty safe assumption to make that at least one person on this thread would have a copy.
The other book I know is out there* is 'Workshop Receipts'. A nineteenth century chemist/pharmacy manual. The first chapter is about building your lab/ workshop. "Put it a the bottom of your plot and leave a large hole in the roof for all those recipes that involve boiling mercury…"

Unfortunately I don't speak nineteenth century chemistry neither chemical terms or weights and measures, so I've passed it on to someone who does. The firework recipes looked very pretty though…

Maggie

*i.e. in the possession of some one who posts on this blog. If Charlie's interested he;s also got a contemporary pharmacopeia, though its up to you how you get him to bring it into Edinburgh

95:

Well, I agree that we generally underestimate the levels of paranoid ideation in the population.

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18442898

Also note that a foreign gun nut seems more threatening to most than the crazy prepared somewhat lone we meet everyday from next door. Though he might be a foreign gun nut to somebody else.

Still, I think there might be some differences with the USA; just look how it's an outlier to many statistics of Western Industrialized societies.

96:

Err, there is one Disney Junior Woodchuck story explaining how to get the ingredients for black powder to power a rocket. Can't find it though.

97:

Also note that a foreign gun nut seems more threatening to most than the crazy prepared somewhat lone we meet everyday from next door. Though he might be a foreign gun nut to somebody else.

Judging by this map, Americans murderously hate their fellow Americans far in excess of any other nationality/ethnic group, even militant Islam

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

It's a little known fact that more Americans died of gunshot wounds inflicted by other Americans at home in the USA in the period 1964-1975, than were killed by the Viet-Minh and NVA in South-East Asia over the same period.

98:

Does it always have to turn into "OMG GUNS!!!!" whenever the USA is mentioned? :-(

99:

off on a tangent:
I can understand why someone would want to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, even if I don't agree with them.
But a marathon? No, I don't understand that.

And the spammers or virus programmers who chose to use the bombing to lure people into their trap (and run a rather active flood right now) ought to be dipped in syrup and then staked out on fire-ant nests. As a start.

100:

" I can understand why someone would want to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, even if I don't agree with them.
But a marathon? No, I don't understand that."


There will be a reason that makes sense to the Bomber - or Bombers - we just don’t have enough data to know what that reason is just yet. As one of our hosts colleagues once said through his fictional character...


" 'It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.'

Sherlock Holmes Quote

-A Scandal in Bohemia "

I hope that the culprit can be caught before he, she or it do it again but criminal investigations can take some considerable time to produce results. For instance consider the Unabomber case.


" Theodore J. Kaczynski pleaded guilty today to all the Federal charges against him, acknowledging that he was the Unabomber who killed and maimed people with package bombs in a solitary 18-year campaign aimed at bringing down the technological system."

18years and then he wasn't caught through mighty deeds of detection but because his brother became suspicious...

" The plea also put an end to a wrenching family saga in which Mr. Kaczynski's brother, David, who first went to authorities two years ago this week and told them his reclusive brother might be the man they were looking for in connection with the long string of bombings, had sought to portray his brother not as an evil manipulator but as a troubled, mentally ill man."

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/23/us/unabomber-case-overview-kaczynski-avoids-death-sentence-with-guilty-plea.html


Yes, I could have used references from Wikipedia, but just look at the number of adverts on that single reference page from a newspapers Archives!


101:

depends on the circumstances - the American like killing each other with firearms far more than the Israelis, Swiss and Canadians, who have similar levels of access and equipment, that's self-evident...

I can understand why someone would want to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, even if I don't agree with them.
But a marathon? No, I don't understand that.

for the pathetic psychopath, the softest target is the best target - its exceedingly rare that hardened targets like the Pentagon are attacked by terrorists - state-backed actors with military-grade equipment often fail to damage such targets

that the 9/11 hijackers could do so much with so little adds weight to any truthers theories, no matter how bizarre

any area (primary school/railway station/train/airport lounge/shopping mall/restaurant/hotel) that can produce a high death toll with improvised or OTS weaponry - is the terrorist/psychopath's atrocity location of choice.

Extensive media coverage is also guaranteed at sports events.

You don't even have to attack one to gain publicity for your cause

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Grand_National#Postponement

102:

I think we all say that the MSN is worse than useless. In fact all the right wing killers have been friends of FOX with their anti government books found in their homes and trucks. I think that FOX is the biggest single source of hate in the US. For what it worth why ball bearings? It was in a book? Did he or they find them in a scrap yard. It would take a lot of bucks to buy them new. And it would be remembered now.

103:

Probably been said by many other people, but explosive grade nitrate fertilizer is not hard to come by and is heavily used in agriculture. Mixed 50/50 with diesel and a blasting cap used to detonate it it forms a very handy explosive. The highways department here used to use that formula to make budget explosive for blasting.
You now need to show ID and register to buy the fertilizer in Canada, but it is not hard to get. We use about 200 kg a year on the fields.

104:

The only surprising thing about the tragic event in Boston was that such events are still a rarity in the U.S.A. where there is no shortage of militent nutters of every type, kind and variety.

I strongly suspect that most of those people join such groups to be a part of something. Then intersection of people who want to abolish the US government, join a militant group, and are willing to blow people to bits is very small. Toss in willing to go to jail for life or be executed, not have a family to support, enjoy their big screen TV on weekends watching football, etc... And the pool of people willing to do this is just flat out tiny.

Tim MV wanted to get caught. He left a trail on purpose and took the license plates off his truck the day of the bombing. It sure looked like he wanted to get stopped by the police and caught.

105:

"Honourable runner-up: an FBI entrapment operation gone horribly wrong, because if you go looking for idiots who can be incited to terrorism and incite them, sooner or later one of them will get over-enthusiastic and won't wait for you to supply the explosives they're supposed to be arrested in possession of."

If that sounds like a bit of a stretch to any of you, it shouldn't:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Portland_car_bomb_plot

106:

It seems that explosive bombs and fire bombs are surprisingly common ways of Americans murdering each other:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16394919

BACKGROUND: Terrorist bombings remain a significant threat in the United States. However, minimal longitudinal data exists regarding the medical and public health impact because of bombings.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective analysis of the number of incidents, injuries, and deaths because of explosive, incendiary, premature, and attempted bombings from January 1983 to December 2002. Morbidity and mortality by motives, target locations, and materials used were evaluated.

RESULTS: In the United States, 36,110 bombing incidents, 5,931 injuries, and 699 deaths were reported.

107:

Perhaps we should worry a good deal more about "Dumb AI", that exists today, than the smart variety?

Most news articles today are created by journalists, edited and embellished upon by robots and distributed automatically to media distributors via subscriptions.

The distributors wants "eyeballs" and with web-based distributions they can measure exactly which kind of article drives click-rates.

Once you have that data, it is a simple step to also apply optimisation algorithms to get the most clicks per dollar spent on subscribed articles.

This is why most "free" news sites today are turning into peddling "Daily Mail"-style shite and blogs(!) becomes sensible sources of information.

But, we can do better:

I would imagine that publishers already use some kinds of machine intelligence, f.ex. SVM machines to classify articles into categories for the subscription and "click-optimisation".

One could optimise further by creating different sites, with varying content and layout, adopted precisely to maximise the desired behavior from defined clusters of individuals, who are segmented automatically by their on-line behavior. This is possible by combining standard machine intelligence techniques and user tracking.

When people cannot, even when they actually try to better themselves, "see the same picture", reality itself becomes a political issue.

Any future discussion becomes about whether something exists or not, rather than if this is good/bad and what to do about it. Even when enough people manage to agree on something it is still a tiny part of the population with Zero influence.

Basically, "Dumb AI" applied by responsible people just to enhance revenue from "free" news channels may also undermine democracy as a side effect ;-)

PS: Smart AI would instantly suck down LiveLeak, then go to the comments section and get entirely the wrong impression of people. We are doomed!

108:

Like OGH, I have been increasingly actively ignoring "the news" for some time now. This last week has been particularly bad in that respect, exactly because of my desire to avoid more hagiographies of a certain old woman, ill-informed speculation about identities etc of the Boston marathon bombers...

109:

@88:
I've never understood people who say "Oh, I never watch the news, it's too depressing." Might as well put your head in the sand. Sure a lot of the news media is garbage, but if you recognize that you can still get something out of it
---
"The truth is out there, but the lies are inside your head."

Just auditing "the news" is going to give you a very one-sided slant on what might be going on.

Knowing today's headlines isn't nearly the same thing as being well-informed, which takes both time and effort.

110:

@107:
This is why most "free" news sites today are turning into peddling "Daily Mail"-style shite
---
Back in the dark ages, many people felt that customizeable online news was going to be the "killer app" for the internet.

Unfortunately, that never happened. You could usually customize it all you wanted, but you were still going to get "celebrities" and "politics", which were the two categories I emphatically did *not* want. And then the ads came, effectively driving away any potential viewers who didn't have high bandwidth. And then splitting each article up into strings of pages, each one a single paragraph. And more animated, flashing, dancing ads. And auto-playing movies. And Java. And Flash. And "you must downloads this plug-in that won't even work on your computer." And if you persist and bore through all that... you get a headline and a teaser.

Unfortunately, it's not *that* much better in the print world. Charlie mentioned "USA Today" a while ago as an example of a useless "news" medium. What's hidden behind the curtain is that "USA Today" is basically an aggregator, and you're looking at "best of" a large number of papers that are much, much worse...

Partisanship has always existed in US newspapers, but it is, in my opinion, being carried to ridiculous extremes now.

111:

Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, there was a massive explosion at a fertilizer manufacturing plant in Texas last night. An accident, but with all the mention of fertilizr bombs here, it seems relevant.

Fertilizer plant explosion injures at least 160 in central Texas; 5 to 15 feared dead

As the guy in the video says "Oh Shit."

112:

"I see no reason to allow my emotional state to be manipulated for the benefit of advertisers. (And neither should you, unless you're a Bostonian..."

Speaking as a Bostonian myself, I wish more of my fellows would follow your advice and turn off the news.

113:
Back in the dark ages, many people felt that customizeable online news was going to be the "killer app" for the internet.

Hmmm . . . you mean something like what Google reader does ;-)

Unfortunately, the story of happened to modern news than is a little more complicated than a tale of co-option and subversion by the Ad men; the peepul, bless their black, flabby little hearts(the ones who watch traditional TV and read traditional print news at any rate) are more than willing to consume this product.

Charlie is quite right about the real news being in the spreadsheets, the models, and the data being fed to those models. In fact, that's probably a good 21st century take on epistemology - hat bit he had in Rule 34 about how modern policing works and it's reliance on data management and coordination is another instance.

However, analyzing this sort of news is complicated, time-consuming, and takes a certain expertise. This didn't used to be a problem because back in the day people relied on people like Ed Murrow to not only report the news, but to analyze it as well. Further, besides deciding how to report the news, they were often responsible for choosing which news to report - performing an invaluable filtering function for their audience.

Those services no longer seem to be part of the reporter's job in modern MSM. Good jounalism costs a lot of money, apparently. Much cheaper to rely on stenographers and sock puppets to report the news. Is it any wonder then that people prefer seeing the Raw Story? Picking a storyline rather than doing any serious analysis themselves?

114:
but the TV channels and newpapers have to fill the dead air somehow, to keep the eyeballs they've attracted on the advertisements.... Such speculation in turn increases anxiety levels and causes depression, bringing the onlookers back for more.

Handily invoking the "Are there more tigers out there!?" software that comes pre-installed with the original OS, making it very hard for the viewer to turn away.

115: > As far as adding ball bearings to increase damage... > a quick look at what those suckers cost makes me > wonder "WTF?" when a handful of grade-zero Chinese > hardware store hex nuts would work as well for the > purpose.

If you take the assumption that the press might be slightly wrong, consider that "BB" refers to a size of shot. They sell shot made out of steel for hunting waterfowl (who might accidentally eat left-over shot and get lead poisoning).

For example, 10 pounds of BB shot is only about $17:

http://www.ballisticproducts.com/Steel-Shot-BB-bag_10/productinfo/SH2B/

This would be far more affordable and practical to do. The joy of the news media is that even if they were to have access to the correct information they might not have the in-house expertise to evaluate the statements to determine what matters and what doesn't.

116:

Boston has seen its first post-marathon hate crime; the only good part of this is the reaction of the sane majority.

117:

Update: there are now stills and video of backpack carrying men who the FBI would like to talk to.

118:

FWIW, in case anyone is perusing this thread presently and not following news outlets:

A police officer was shot dead on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass.

Some time after that, possibly after a chase, at least two individuals engaged in a firefight with police officers in Watertown, Mass. In addition to gunfire, hand grenades or similar explosive devices were thrown at police officers. Also, by multiple accounts, a larger device described as a "pressure cooker bomb" was directed at police officers.

At least one suspect is in custody.

At this point, it seems quite unlikely that this is _unrelated_ to the Marathon incident.

119:

USA & explosives
Oh dear
The "West" tragedy seems to be a repeat of criminal stupidity & greed - we don't need no frickin' state/federal regulations to tell us how to run a chemical plant!

I mean, it's a FERTILISER factory - full of Nitrates, for Ghu's sake!

Makes Flixborough look like a tea-party, but still, it could have been as bad as Germany in 1921

I understand that there have been warnings about this plant for years - but that's just pesky commie US guvmint interference, isn't it?
Gah.

120:

Various rightie websites have been spreading rumors as to the identities of the two bombing suspects, with much associated political baggage.

I will not repeat the names they're using here. Just be aware that any names bandied about right now are purely unsubstantiated.

121:

At this point, it's confirmed that these are definitely the Marathon suspects. One of them is dead, the other is at large.

122:

Umm, where? I am seeing the names named only on viciously right-wing sites. There is literally nothing anywhere else.

123:

Oh, you meant the shooters, not the named men. Sorry. Duh.

124:

No names yet. The individuals involved in the murder of the MIT campus officer, a carjacking, and the firefight and bombings in Watertown, are by all accounts now the same individuals who were wanted in the Boston Marathon bombings. As far as we know, they were identified by appearance.

125:

Strongly seconded on the need to actually have a safety regime in chemical plants, particularly where nitrates or explosives are involved.

126:

Fairly up-to-date information, relying on Massachusets police feeds HERE
Make of that what you will ....

127:

And there is a school a couple of hundred yards from the plant.

I'm not 100% sure of what the plant was producing or storing, but the reports say the initial fire was ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia can be used as a fertiliser, with the right equipment. Some reports speculated about ammonium nitrate. It doesn't look a large enough site to be producing either chemical, but storage is quite plausible.

If I have the chemistry and physics right, this could have been a BLEVE, perhaps heat from the fire increasing the pressure in another ammonia tank until it ruptures, and there's mixing with air before the ignition of the vapour cloud.

But they are saying ammonium nitrate was on-site as well.

Looking at the Google Earth images, I see a lot of what seem to be agriculture-compatible tank trucks parked at the southern end of the site: four=wheeled trailers with fairly narrow white tanks, compared to the track width. There's also an artic on-site, shadows showing it to be a pretty typical American rig., a cluster of what seem to be storage tanks, and several much large silo structures.

If those were for ammonium nitrate, it looks a considerable quantity.

There are two sorts of these large circular structures. The smaller ones seem to be fairly new, one of them built on the concrete pad for a second large-size structure. The southernmost of these has a conveyor for filling the silo running from ground-level by the railway siding.

The large one, which looks to have a corroded roof, has a loading conveyor on the south side, in the right place for a bult truck to unload, but I can't be sure about the conveyor that runs over the rail track.

The two northernmost structures have a truck parked by them, some sort of bottom-emptying hopper wagon, and no apparent connection to the rail siding.

It looks as though the business used to be supplied with something by rail, but has modified its materials handling to allow input and output by road. The older large structure might even have started life as a grain silo, incoming bulk grain from farms, loaded for long distance shipment by rail.

If those presumed silos were storing ammonium nitrate, we could be talking kiloton equivalent, easily. There are ways of measuring the structure heights from the sun angle and the shadows cast, but I'd be wary of the imagery dates supplied from Google Earth.

128:

Does anyone else find it hilarious that the comment thread of a post entitled "Ignore the news" has ended up with people posting links to the latest news on the very subject that the post was suggesting should be ignored?

Whilst you consider that, I'm off to follow those links. This news is getting interesting...

129:

Just to add:

Anhydrius ammonia is injected into the soil, by an implement resembling a light cultivator, or combined with a seed drill.

Ammonium nitrate is a solid which is usually manufactured as granules of a consistent size. For fertilizer use the granule size is larger than that supplied for use in ANFO. Handling equipment might be an endless-belt conveyor. You maybe could shift it with a grain auger, but that would do mechanical damage to the granules, which makes even spreading harder, and the resulting dust is much more liable to explode.

I cannot tell from the Google Earth imagery just how the fixed machinery at the plant worked and, for that matter, I'd have to do some checking to discover what crops are grown in the district. But the time of year is consistent with the site storing a lot of fertiliser. For spring-sown crops anhydrous ammonia could be being used, while ammonium nitrate would be used later in the growing season, keeping the plants growing with their full vim and vigour.

130:

Can anybody put in words, just how far out of their minds Americans are to do what they are just doing in Boston?

I tried, but ultimately failed, to do that on my blog.

131:

Oh yes. Explosions, car crashes, bad guys kidnapping innocent civiloans, engaged in a running fire fight dow the streets of a major American metropolis. No idea why anyone might be interested in this stuff....

132:

Umm... I live in the area.

Haven't heard anything about people on the street being treated as criminals. The door to door stuff is to talk with potential witnesses, I don't think they're acting like people might be sheltering the suspect; though I do agree that's a bit extreme (and, I suspect, maybe counterproductive).

Re the suspect who was gunned down - he was wearing an explosive device, and was clearly intent on killing the officers in question.

I think calling the US a police state is a little premature at the moment. Wait and see what things are like a month after the lockdown ends.

133:

Well, sure, the media reporting is out of hand (and I guess I failed to take that into account). But I wouldn't call these measures just "a bit" extreme either.

134:

Ummm, Chechens? Say what?

The only thing I can add is that Boston's on "lockdown," and I hope everyone living there can work at home today.

Something really doesn't make sense here.

135:

They may be homebrew nutjobs after all; one was a university student, and they'd been here ~10 years last I heard.

136:

Older brother (now deceased) may have been into radical Islam, according to the initial noise coming out.

However, the parents (observant Muslims) are calling on the one remaining brother to turn himself in, so this is about the brothers and their friend(s), not the family.

Right now, NPR is talking to people who knew him (including a well-known reporter) and they're all scratching their heads about how such a nice kid (suspect #2, on the run right now) flipped so badly.

There's a third suspect in custody.

I agree that they may be "homebrew nutjobs," but they're not part of the American right wing. I also agree that this is a really good time to tiptoe on eggshells until the pursuit ends. Note that there are a few terror words that aren't part of the conversation? I'll be just as happy to keep it that way until we know more.

137:

Ah, I was wondering why one of my posts didn't appear. Tiptoeing on eggshells it shall be. (And my apologies to Charlie.)

I do wonder what it is lately with all the apparently peaceable guys snapping violently.

138:

Seems they're home-grown in the sense that they've lived and gone to school here for several years. Apparently the older brother said he had no American friends, and has possibly become radicalised partly because of events in Syria (what that has to do with the Boston Marathon?). A case of "I'm the older brother, you do what I say"?

Updates from NPR:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/04/19/177885868/shots-explosions-heard-as-boston-manhunt-continues

139:

Thing that's bugging me is that police can now, by fiat, lock down a major American city and its suburbs in the name of public safety, as if it was one oversized high school.

I'm trying to figure out whether this is horribly disturbing, a sign that people can actually work together to deal with a public safety issue, or some sick combination of both.

140:

Don't mind me, I just spent today hiking all over Malaka, acquiring blisters and near-dehydration (100% humidity, mid-thirties celsius).

All I have to say right now is, "Chechens, who ordered that?!?"

141:

Just saw your pics on twitter, looks nice. Enjoy.

Meant to add @138: Probably not a good idea to name your son after Timur the Lame?

142:

I'm quite jealous.

Anyway, if you don't know the rehydration formula, feel free to ask. Also, it's worth taking an umbrella (from umbro meaning shade. AKA a parasol) for such hikes, just to decrease amount of energy your body has to deal with.

143:

@ 136 / 140
Oh my ears & whiskers!

Russian / Chechen / possibly muslim supposed (no-one actually KNOWS yet, do they?) terrorists ... mixed in with US paranoias. Do you think calling up Cthulu might be safer?

Ah, rehydration:
In the ratios, 4 : 4 : 2 : 1
Salt : Sugar/Glucose : Sodium Bicarbonate : Cream of Tartar/Tartaric Acid.
Dissolve in water ......

144:

OPPS, it looks like it was THEM not us. Turned on the TV. Same thing over and over. Intended to make people as fearful as possible? If you are fearful, how well do you think? For what it matters a ship of ammonium nitrate wiped out the port city of Texas City back in the early 50's, late 40's.

145:

There's a Malaysian soft drink called 100Plus - very bearable, and it was tested and approved by our sports science team in 1998 (at the time it was cheap, isotonic, and caffeine-free)

Competing in Malaysia was fun - the conditions you describe, and I was wearing a double-layered canvas suit. Fortunately, I was in the shade and wasn't moving about much, but thank-you to the makers of Coolmax undergarments. We survived by having iceboxes containing damp cloths and lots of cold liquid. The only downside was that when I got grabbed to do a drug test after my event, it took three hours and three attempts before the samples stopped being too watery to be tested...

146:

OPPS, it looks like it was THEM not us

looks like the Tsarnaev brothers tick the "Muslim" and "Russki" box

two hate figures for the price of one!

still you can't get more Caucasian than some from the Caucasus....

147:

For what it matters a ship of ammonium nitrate wiped out the port city of Texas City back in the early 50's, late 40's.

see also
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oppau_explosion
from in Germany, 1921 - six hundred dead

using dynamite charge to break up stored ammonium nitrate/ammonium sulphate

v. clever!

148:

Come on, it's the manly way...

149:

...but there's no substitute for ammonium perchlorate

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cy0bd-TdmA

150:

I know, I know! It's so bloody addictive! I have lots of news channels on my Hummax Satellite box and from RTS to CBS to BBC and all other alphabetic soup channels they are all Bloody AT It. And I can’t help myself. I've seen the same Gun and Bomb battle - from some ones digital camera and in the dark and from a sensible distance - six times now as interpreted by news hacks from across the globe and, and ...must Resist, Must Resist ..Err, excuse me for a moment wont you?

151:

Well, it looks like the suspect slept the day away, was not discovered by the massive search (good grief! Can't anyone do a proper massive manhunt these days?), and now there's another gun battle. Here we go again.

At least I now know what the unmarked SUVs and SWAT gear that the authorities use look like. For anyone writing modern fiction, this is all very informative.

Too bad I foolishly scheduled my vacation to not coincide with all this, so I can't find a beach or mountain to go enjoy. Sigh. I envy Charlie at the moment.

152:


They have Armoured Personnel Carriers with Turrets and Tech Stuff sticking up in various directions! BLACK Armoured Personnel Carriers. They have Men in Black Helmets and Body Armour who are clutching Ray Guns!

All right maybe not Ray Guns but an improbable number of Storm Troopers armed with Assault Rifles emerged from a perfectly normal house at one point in the narrative and I can’t figure out how in hell they all got in there leave alone how they all got out.

Our Gracious Host is making it all up as he goes along and is feeding it directly into our brains. This just can't be happening!

Someone make it stop!

153:

All I could think of is this:

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

The whole thing is beyond belief for me. In terms of the loss of liberty, in terms of the general outlook for the future, this April 19th is worse than 9/11 as far as I am concerned.

154:

There's a Malaysian soft drink called 100Plus - very bearable, and it was tested and approved by our sports science team in 1998 (at the time it was cheap, isotonic, and caffeine-free)

You forgot to add, "tastes vile, dries sticky if you spill it", but yes, I'm familiar with it. And with Pocari Sweat, its Japanese equivalent.

(I generally go for bottled water, though, because I'm not going hungry/short on electrolytes; my problem is I'm on diuretics, so I have to remember to keep chugging at least 500ml/90minutes for a couple of hours twice a day, even in temperate climates like Scotland.)

155:

Oh come on. In an era of silly budget cuts, all the SWAT teams got to demonstrate why they need to keep their budgets, is all.

Okay, here's the conspiracy bait: if they hadn't ordered the lock down at 6 a.m., what might have happened. The homeowner goes out, discovers the blood trail to the boat. Does he know what's going on at that point, or does he become a victim? When the cops swarm the neighborhood, do they fight their way past moms taking their children to kindergarten, or what? I'm still ambivalent about whether the lock-down was necessary, but it's not easy to say.

I'm just disgusted that they sent in a massive number of people, and missed a blood trail leading to a boat. That wasn't very good searching.

Conversely, I'm very glad that, once they knew where he was, they simply waited out the fire storm until the suspect had emptied his clips, then got him out, somewhat alive at last hearing. That willingness to sit there under fire, rather than giving him his berserker sendoff, says quite a lot about their discipline. I'm happy always happy to see well-disciplined cops, especially given the weapons they had.

156:

"missed a blood trail" Oh come on. The cops had not got there yet. This is not a English village.

157:

Now the fun starts.
Why?
Who (else)?
Why, why, why?

Oh, & it looks like the vile Putin will be smirking for a little longer .....

158:

_"Can anybody put in words, just how far out of their minds Americans are to do what they are just doing in Boston?"_

Does seem really crazy to lock a city of that size down. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, seems they knew what they were doing, and weren't imagining that situation would last for very long.

I think it's fair to say some pretty darn competent police work was exhibited in many parts of the situation.

159:

Competent police work?

You do know that he was found after a local resident told the police that there was blood on the tarp over a boat? All that only after the lock down was over. Before that, the "professionals" weren't able to find a trail of blood.

160:

This all seems, from my distant perspective, to have been a lot of fuss over a relatively small affair. Is shutting down whole cities every time a teenager goes postal a proportionate response?

161:

It's proof, if proof were needed, that governments, even those of self-styled liberal democracies, are authoritarian in nature and are more than willing to suspend the rights of citizens/subjects and the normal functioning of society if they feel circumstances demand it.

The people whose rights have been suspended are usually utterly compliant, as they were in this case.

You can get away with many things in defence of those nebulous concepts - "public safety" and "national security".

162:

It is very hard to form any kind of sensible opinion from so very far away from the event, especially when that event is viewed through the lens of News as Theatre.

My Guess is that the local and federal law enforcement may - just May - have initiated the first stage of a contingency plan intended as a response to a Mumbai-style terror attack.

Over here in the U.K. there was a certain amount of posturing a while ago by a Minister who was clearly defending his territory in the Age of Austerity...

" The emergency services must be better prepared for a lone gunman or Mumbai-style terror attack on Britain's streets, a minister has warned. "

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19988748


Political posturing aside though it does make sense to prepare for such an attack. It could be that it was decided to run this incident as a kind of live fire exercise in preparation for something much worse.

163:

Contradicted by http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/20/us/boston-boat-spotter/index.html

Which indicates no trail of blood, just a flapping tarp which warranted investigation by the owner.

Do you see the title of this post? "PSA: Ignore the news"? Going off a rushed-to-wire report in a different country is the reason for that.

164:

Quite. A point which was also made over on a law blog, ironically named "popehat", thus:

"That said, a large percent of the reaction in Boston has been security theater. "Four victims brutally killed" goes by other names in other cities.

In Detroit, for example, they call it "Tuesday"."

165:

Incidentally? Blaming The Victim stops now.

The victim in this case includes the city of Boston and neighbouring areas.

I will remove and deal with Charlie yelling at me later, if necessary.

166:

Such a scary word lockdown and certainly one to make the libertarians froth.

The reality was people were "asked" to remain in their homes and the government shut down stuff the government runs.

Authority can "ask" you to do a lot of stuff but it is still your prerogative to refuse if you disagree.

Sounds like most of the citizens of Boston chose to follow the suggestion.

If anyone was actually picked up or harassed for refusal, then I am sure the lawyers are going to have some fun with DHS and Boston PD. which is why we keep lawyers around, nasty little beasts but useful on occasion

167:

Commentary on the lockdown from Bruce Schneier here:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/04/the_boston_mara.html

He makes the point (echoing some of his commenters) that there was one significant difference between this case and some other random armed guy: the fugitive had already tossed grenades and pipe bombs at police out the windows of his car-jacked SUV in the course of fleeing (in the wee hours of Friday morning), and the brother that they'd captured was at least reported to have been wearing an explosive vest. So, there was the prospect of more mass casualties if he'd been able to find a crowd to blow himself up in.

Aside from that, one might also note, there was the prospect that shutting down the buses and the like could have denied the guy a quick way out of the area. (As it happened, he was covered in so much blood that he couldn't possibly have gone unnoticed, but his condition wasn't known for certain.)

What gets me, as a resident of the area, is the scale of the lockdown. I can understand locking down the immediate area, or even Watertown as a whole, but other towns miles distant, where they weren't even looking? *All* regional mass transit? That's where I personally see excess.

168:

On further note: despite the terminology, the "lockdown" was voluntary, and not universally respected (though most people complied, witness the numerous photos of absolutely empty streets).

In Central Square, Cambridge, almost all the stores were closed, including two pharmacies. (Which is a risk to the lockdown that didn't get much press: in all of Boston, there were probably quite a few people low on their meds for all sorts of conditions.) But one liquor store was doing very brisk business.

169:

Seriously, following a suggestion to stay home for most of a day is hardly declaring Martial Law.

On one hand having people go about their business may have been able to spot the suspects quickly, but on the other would have provided more potential casualties.

And I wouldn't be surprised if many of the people didn't mind having a day off, despite the circumstances.

170:

When you have one guy with a suicide vest its not dumb to try and keep people making themselves a target in the open. When this SWAT stuff started I read they used black to put fear into those they were after.

171:

Hrm, So what's this then Charles?

A Blog, for a writer,
AKA A news outlet to create awareness and increase sales...
Thought so.

:)
PS - love your books, Dam it works.

172:

Futher to that. Whilst we in the U.K. do have a lower level of Death by Gun than occurs in other parts of the World we do have Death by Gun and this, following linked, crime wasn't exactly our police forces finest hour..

" The 2010 Northumbria Police manhunt was a major police operation in North East England in which armed police officers under the command of the Northumbria Police force were deployed to apprehend Raoul Moat, a 37-year-old man from Newcastle upon Tyne who was on the run after shooting three people in two days. His victims were ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, her new partner Chris Brown, and police officer David Rathband. Stobbart was hospitalised and Brown was killed, while Rathband remained in hospital for nearly three weeks and was permanently blinded. Moat, who had recently been released from Durham Prison, shot the three people with a sawn-off shotgun, two days after his release. After six days on the run, Moat was recognised by police and contained in the open, leading to a standoff. After nearly six hours of negotiation, Moat shot himself in the early hours of the following morning, and was later pronounced dead at Newcastle General Hospital. The operation took place across the entire Northumbria Police area, which covers both the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear and the county of Northumberland."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Northumbria_Police_manhunt

Oh, and quite recently ..

"On 18 September 2012, Police Constable Nicola Hughes and Police Constable Fiona Bone, two Greater Manchester Police officers, were killed by Dale Cregan in a gun and grenade attack while responding to a report of a burglary in Greater Manchester, England.

The incident was the first in Great Britain in which two female police officers were killed on duty. Greater Manchester's chief constable Peter Fahy called the attack "cold-blooded murder"[1] and British prime minister David Cameron described it as a "despicable act...of pure evil". The deaths renewed the debate about whether British police officers should be armed[citation needed]. "

Note " grenade attack "

We in the U.K aren't really in a position to be all that smug.

173:


Good Grief! Then not a few of we middle aged persons.. oh all right, but 64 IS Middle Aged from a certain perspective.. Who routinely wear Black Tee Shirts and Jeans of much the same colour must needs be positively Terrifying. FEAR US for we are OLD!! But, not really all that old and we are cute and lovable really. As all properly qualified people must surely agree.

174:

...or because criminals don't routinely carry night-vision equipment, and so a uniform colour that makes you hard to see in dark / dim conditions is a sensible protective camouflage.

PS why do you think the preparations against Mumbai-style attacks received a reasonable level of publicity in the UK? It's a deterrent, after all you don't see the police and ministers discussing potential responses to armed robbery. Just like the publicity surrounding Air Defence in the run-up to the Olympics - "Don't even bother, we've thought about it".

The thing about a large IED is that requires a ton of logistic support; Mumbai was a few guys and the equivalent of a couple of suitcases of metalwork.

175:

Which one was open? There are only three; two looked close. Cantab Lounge was doing business, though, as was that scary convenience store near the BofA that looks like a front for dealers.

I saw the 7-11 surrounded by prowlers the night before; turns out that was a coincidental armed robbery.

But yes, it was voluntary, save for parts of Watertown. There the police wanted to make sure that no civilians were hurt and keep the guy trapped in the zone for as long as possible.

It wasn't an easy decision to make, and if the dragnet had been unsuccessful (or had civilians been hurt) then Governor Patrick would have seen the rest of his public career crumble.

176:

The answer to Nestor's question is "no."

But if the authorities can prevent more people from dying because the perpetrators are armed, dangerous, and at-large, then the answer is "yes."

The Detroit quip is cute, but shows an appalling lack of respect for human life. You cannot prevent every murder. But there are some that you can prevent. You cannot catch every criminal. But there are some that you can catch.

And so you should try.

177:

Complete agreement. Well said.

178:

On the contrary, it seems to me that those with an appalling lack of respect for human life are the ghouls (whether of the media or elected variety) who are slobbering all over this.

An example: I live in a small town, not a million miles from a certain plant that featured in OGH's Merchant Princes series. Every flag in our podunk town is at half mast, due to the bombing.

A couple of weeks ago, a chap who lived here was killed when some jerk to whom the rules of the road didn't apply ploughed into him. A year or so back a little old lady, who had lived here all her life was murdered.

Where were the flags at half mast for those people? There weren't any, despite the fact that both deaths were not only tragic but right here on our doorstep, with the victims being our neighbours. Why? Because their deaths weren't a big international media event, that sad people desperate for vicarious importance could attach themselves to.

All those jostling to profit from events in Boston can keep their so-called respect for human life. I'll stick with the real stuff.

179:

You know Putin made this mess.

180:

I think there's a difference between real news breaking, and prattling "expert" blowhards filling air.

Predictably, everything having to do with the US on this blog gets comments like: "US is stupid; fuck them all!; Americans are idiots!" It gets boring.

Maybe Edinburgh or London cops would have acquitted themselves as well in a bomb-chucking firefight -- but I rather doubt it.


181:

Greg - Or, indeed, 89 deaths per day in road traffic incidents.

It's puzzling: On the one hand, society has clearly decided that 89 deaths on the roads every day is an acceptable rate of attrition and so mundane as to be beneath comment, while on the other, it appears incapable of applying that metric to deaths by any other cause.

182:

the other rob:
Here, apart from a very small blip last year, road deaths have been falling - I can remember when it was 5000+ a year - now it is down to 1900 ....
However, compare to the railways - NONE for several years now .....
But look at the screams when ONE person is killed on the railways!

But, I wonder, does the first table I linked to back up @ #181 indicate, perhaps that the USA is NOT a developed/civilised country, compared to say W EUrope , Australia NZ wtc ... ?
Calling all residents of the rebellious colonies - how do YOU react to that suggestion?

183:

Gerg - my reaction is that it feels like you're gun trolling, which is rather tedious.

184:

My reaction is that insults are not discourse, and I've a short temper as mentioned above.

Two of those comments are gone now.

185:

Greg, YELLOW CARD TIME. Please stop trolling.

If you want to criticize the approach/methodology of a given police force, that's fine. If you want to have a go at a prosecutor, that's fine. If you want to condemn a system that makes judge and prosecutor elected offices, that's fine. But you do not use specific bad examples to paint an entire nation or people with a broad brush. We have a technical term for that -- bigotry -- and it's not welcome here. You only get to pull out the broad brush when there's clear quantitative evidence to support it.

186:

Other Rob:

Let me see if I've got this straight.

YOU AND OTHERS: Massachusetts put in too many resources to catch two murderers. They should not have done that because we do not make the same effort to catch every murderer.

ME: Just because you cannot catch, prevent or punish all murderers does not mean that you should not catch, prevent or punish any murderers. In this case, the state of Massachusetts was able to do so.

YOU: It is a terrible thing to mourn the victims of an attempted mass murder because my town here is not mourning the victims of vehicular manslaughter.

Huh?

187:

Noel

You have not got it straight. But, of course, you already know that.

188:

The Central Sq. liquor store that was open (in the afternoon) was Libby's; the Dosa Factory next door was also open.

BTW, to give a bit more of a sense for geography, this wasn't far at all from the Tsarnaev's apartment (where the cops did at least one "controlled detonation" of stuff they found), so if there was one area beyond Watertown that it made sense to shut down, this would have been it. (Yeah, they wouldn't have returned if they were thinking clearly, but if they were thinking clearly, none of this would have happened.)

One other thing I ran across yesterday, which might give a bit of insight into the general mentality of law enforcement, and how they responded to this situation. On my way to something else, I stumbled on the route of slain MIT officer Sean Collier's last trip from the medical examiner's office to a funeral home. The first few blocks, from the ME's office to the nearest highway on-ramp, were completely lined with law enforcement officers and vehicles from all around, flashers twinkling continually: police departments from two towns away, SWAT trucks, unmarked cars, a representative from the U.S. park rangers. The people stood at formal attention and saluted as the hearse went by.

That said, the investigation is ongoing; the crime scene near the finish line is still cordoned off and guarded, with the main public library and two landmark churches still inaccessible within the barriers. I'm not sure what could be left to find in there...

189:

Charlie
I'm partly wrong
But so (I think) may you be ??

There are other nations with very high levels of gun ownership, without the US' gun-death statistics. Everyone always mentions Switzerland, here; but that may not apply any more, since I believe they are restricting geographical points of posession .. (?)

I was also trying to agree, by example, with "the other rob", regarding the way different modes of death are regarded by both populations & the media.
Hence my example of road-deaths & train-deaths.

I must admit, I really, really can not get my head around the US attitudes (re Second Amendment (?)) to gun-ownership, but that wasn't what I was aiming (oops!) at.
And, it is noticeable, even to me, that there is, at least (at last?) a very concerned debate going on in the US about this very issue. It seems, with suprisingly little direct information, because almost everything one sees here is filtered through someone's set of prejudices, that the preferences/wishes/desires of the majority of their population & the effectiveness of an entranched vested interest, with a very loud voice are very much at odds.
Am I correct, or am I pissing in the wind?

190:

There are other nations with very high levels of gun ownership, without the US' gun-death statistics.

Yes, I know that. So, in all probability, does everyone else here.

This is not a gun control discussion. It's a discussion of the state of media coverage of unusual events. Please stop trying to derail it.

191:

The whole thing is beyond belief for me. In terms of the loss of liberty, in terms of the general outlook for the future

OK. A bit of realism here. I just watched the news clip from Friday.

The mayor of Boston ASKED that everyone please stay in their homes or where ever they were at that time to make the search easier for the police. There was NO order, no removal of liberty, whatever. It was a request. And most of the city went along with it. There were interviews with people who were out for various reasons talking about how deserted everything was.

On the other hand MIT ORDERED a lockdown. And if you were a staff or student and disobeyed there likely would have been consequences. But MIT is a private school. And if you want to live there you have to play by their rules. And considering that it was an MIT cop who was murdered by the duo in a gun fight I can understand the order.

192:

Most Americans favor tighter gun control. The problem is that they aren't deeply committed while the people who want maximum guns are extremely zealous. As an example the recent Senate bill for slightly tighter background checks went down despite 90% popular support (that it failed because supporters 'only' had 54 out of 100 votes is a separate bit of craziness). That's because if a senator voted "yes" that guaranteed the NRA would oppose them in the next election, while a "no" vote would almost certainly produce no negative effect come campaign time.

As for the National Rifle Association itself, the leadership is a bunch of paranoid loons who used to think the commies were going to invade and steal their guns and now think the federal government is going to invade and steal all their guns. The firearms industry then exploits this paranoia because they sell an extremely durable good in a saturated market; only around a third of US households own a gun and that number is shrinking.

193:

heckblazer, please drop the gun discussion.

194:

On topic:

A month ago the House of Lords threw out a ridiculous proposal made by the Tories to offer employees shares in the company they worked for in return for giving up the usual worker rights, you know, the ones that give us some protection from arbitrary managerial decisions.
The idea was in fact so bad that even businesses campaigned against it.
Nevertheless, 5 or 6 days ago, they revived it.

Yes, undercover of the news obsession with the Boston bombings and Thatcher funeral, they revived a bad old idea which had been rejected by everyone except the condem coalition.

http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/16/04/2013/59352/house-of-commons-reinstates-rights-for-shares-proposal-after-lords.htm

Since the major media companies are in the business to sell eyeballs, dull but important stuff like this is ignored, especially since they don't have many real journalists left who would keep an eye on this sort of stupidity.

195:

My apologies, I posted that before I saw you issue the yellow card.

196:

OK
Why is it that some deaths are important & significant (Please assume I'm putting quote-marks around all these descriptors!) and others are not, or not percieved as significant?
1 person dies in a train-crash, shock, horror! (OK, partly because trains are really safe places to be) but about 5 people die every day on the roads - does the world notice - no ....
The example we've been discussing - I won't go any further for obvoius reasons.
And your own home isn't that safe: commonest cause of death in the home (I think) - falling down the stairs ...
Why the huge variation in other causes of death, even between developed "civilised" countries? What is going on here?
Do people's perceptions really vary that much?
I know the general population is VERY BAD at estimating true risks - the vaccine wars/scandals of recent years are a classic for this - revived because we now have a measles "epidemic" in S Wales [Note].
Why is this so?
And I think this relates right back to the original header for this thread: "ignore the news" - who chooses what is "news", and how & why do we imagine some things more imprtant than others, even though the actual statistics say otherwise?

Note: Someone of my age, of course has HAD measles, and cannot now percieve the apparently increased risk that it now poses - how's that for a circular argument?
Meanwhile, I've had not only that, but rubella, mumps, whooping cough, real 'flu (twice - ugh) scarlet fever - & so I assume that my immune system is fairly well topped up. Apart, that is, from the other immunisation shots that I have recieved .....

197:

I've had not only that, but rubella, mumps, whooping cough, real 'flu (twice - ugh)

Ful is constantly morphing. You can get is multiple times per year. Every year. I've had it about 10 times over my life. (59 years).

I understand there are 100s of variations on the cold virus. When I traveled by plane about 30 times per year I seemed to have a cold non stop. I was just getting infected by a new variation. Over and over again. Ugh.

198:

As to following big even news when there's little real information.

Pick a morning and evening news source. Catch them and ignore the rest. You'll be able to see what's new without hearing the few known details repeated endlessly.

199:

Something that's overlooked in many of the Boston cost-benefit analyses I've seen is that the bombers didn't just murder four people, they also seriously injured 170+ people while attempting to murder them. These were gruesome, maiming injuries like this one (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC), leaving people without eyes and limbs, and in at least one case without 30% of their skin. That there were so few deaths probably has more to do with there already being a large number of doctors at the marathon finishing line ready to help exhausted runners and a good response generally than it does with the level of damage the bombs did.

200:

I can guess the point you're trying to make. But you're not making it very clearly or very well.

If it's even the point I think it is. It's that unclear.

201:

I shouldn't worry about it, then, if I were you.

202:

First: that's BS &
Second: see Charlie @193

203:

A comment related to guns was removed. Further ones will be as well, 'kay?

(Charlie is back, and can take a more active role after recovering from his trip.)

204:
All I have to say right now is, "Chechens, who ordered that?!?"

No idea. The Russians, in some way, though not directly, I guess. But since I like being the advocatus diaboli, if we go with conspiracy theories...

I guess the Russian Gouvernment is the one most likely to benefit from this. It wouldn't be the first time, since AFAIK Putin et al. owe part of their popularity to their image as strong men against the terrorism in Russia. Where, well, there are the usual speculations not all that terrorism was by the enemies of the Russian government...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings

Funny thing is, if you go for the usual conspiracy theorists on the Boston Marathon bombing, they are into theories that are both more and less "plausible". E.g. Alex Jones et al. assume the hidden actor is from the US government , and they create convoluted theories how this bombing might help the government. AFAIK (I'm not overly masochistic at the moment, so I haven't searched that much) there are no theories involving the FSB at the moment.

In general, we assume conspiracy theories carter to some needs, e.g. they explain complicated things, they eliminate random chance etc. So there is the question how e.g. a FBI conspiracy is more salient then a FSB one. To much moral ambiguity, no possibility to stick it to the man, or what?

Whatever, the fact that the usual internet conspiracy guy seems to think worse about the US government then about the Russian one would be somewhat alarming.

OTOH, it might be interesting to see how Russian conspiracy theorists think about foreign factors in their domestic terrorism.

Sorry for rambling.

205:

If somebody else wants to compare conspiracy theories from within Russia and the USA, feel free to do the research.

I can wait.

I speculate that a factor is that some of us know from experience just what ugly things "our" government can do. Some of us read news reports, and wonder, "How can they do such things?" And some of the things that happen are so terrible, and so long-running, that we find it hard to accept accident and unintended consequences.

A conspiracy theory about our government fits with our image of the world, and counters an apparent general tendency of politicians to shirk responsibility. It is a way of saying to them that they cannot get away with it.

And perhaps a big part of it is that, in a world of MBA-thinking about the knowledge needed to manage an operation—a good manager can manage anything and make it more efficient—how can some of these things have gone on for so long without being noticed?

We want a properly-run world, and rather than believe that the ideal our world is run by is untenable, that bad management is the norm, we would rather believe in organised malice.

We're playing the game with a pack of cards that was stacked before it came out of the print-shop. That's the feeling, and it's hard to throw off.

206:

@ 204 & 205
Please see my own question in #196 who chooses what is "news", and how & why do we imagine some things more important than others, even though the actual statistics say otherwise?
Couple that with a suspicion, plausible or not, that there might be / is a "conspiracy" somewhere, and you can end up chasing your own tail for no realistic result - ever.
You also have the previously alluded-to problem of judging statistics & risks - like the comparitive death rates from road accidents, which are the real big killer; in the home, which is much bigger than many people might expect; and vary variable factors like the subject that we are not allowed to mention: - but look at the real, actual numbers - it gives you pause.
Going to the "safe" (ahem) subject of road-kill ...
I was very suprised to find that the UK's road-death numbers are down below 2000 a year, now. Yet my PERCEPTION is that it is less safe than when I learnt to drive (1963-4) because the roads are so crowded now, and I would not, any more, cycle across central London, as I once used to.
Part of this is that deaths IN CARS have gone down, hugely, whereas deaths of cyclists & pedestrians may not have.

Again any thoughts on perceptions & reality, & how "the news" is filtered & presented to us on these & other subjects?

207:

I seem to have upset you. The insult, unlike your point, is not veiled.

208:

Not upset and no insult intended - don't have time for either, to be frank.

I don't know you and bear you no animus but it's beginning to seem as if you're trying to pick a fight. Let's not, eh?

209:

#207 and #208 - In that case guys, perhaps you should both exercise some voluntary self-censorship regarding future contributions to this thread?

210:

Well, I admit to reading biographies of Jörg Lanz et al., so I'm used to pain, but at the moment I don't feel the urge. I'm somewhat content with the overspill from http://blog.fefe.de/ or the comment site http://blog.refefe.de/
The signal-to-noise ratio is somewhat problematic, though.

And then, as already mentioned, conspiracy theories carter somewhat to the beliefs of their proponents, as you can see in one joke of the German left about the somewhat unhinged element in any discussions:
"it's all the fault of the cyclists and jews!" - "why cyclists?"

btw, "real" conspiracy theorists are somewhat pathological, but there is some continuum towards respectable.

211:

Hm, anybody thought about getting the guys from lesswrong doing a Bayesian analysis on the data? Cold be fun...
SCNR.

212:

The only news I listen to is the Today programme, every day. If I miss it for three days in a row, I open my sealed orders.

Seriously, though I've no interest in "rolling news" unless I'm personally involved - which hasn't occurred yet. I try to avoid things like reddit on current events, and I've tuned my twitter feed to avoid sensationalist retweets and spurious reports.

213:

Charlie said:
"Such speculation in turn increases anxiety levels and causes depression"

I think we're seeing some of the effects of that, right here.

214:

The only Brit general the Americas had any use for in WW-2 said something like" things are never as bad as first reports say" If you spend your thinking about how bad all the ifs may be you can't do anything.

215:

@ 214
And whom would that have been, then?
Slim?
Horrocks?
[ I always thought "the Auk" was badly treated ]
As it is, with *geniuses* like MacArthur, & Patton, the US hardly had anything to write home about, did they?

216:

Do we include events like televised mass marathons (eg Boston, London) in "rolling news"? I'm excluding things like motor sports events, and concentrating on the "human interest" and "charity runner" angles.

If not, the last time I watched rolling news would be September 11th, when the story was literally unfolding live.

217:

Speaking of conspiracy theories, here's a fascinating point; the official back story for Tamerlan Tsarnaev simply doesn't make sense. It requires us to believe that both the FBI and the Russian security services gave him a clean bill of health and ignored him spending months in Dagestan receiving terror training -- in the middle of a brutal military occupation.

This simply isn't plausible. If it's true, then both the FBI and the FSB fucked up monumentally. And if it's untrue, the security services of one or both of the USA and Russia are lying, presumably to cover something up.

I note my predictive failure in comment #66 -- I got the size of the cell right, but totally missed the perps' actual cause. So I probably shouldn't try to pin the tail on the donkey, but ... both the FBI and the Russian security services have a history of false-flag operations. Maybe we're witnessing the aftermath of an op that got away from its handlers?

218:

Something smells very badly of rotten stinking fish, that's certain.
Note how the younger brother can already "just" manage to speak & is already indicating that "It wer my big bruv's fault" ...
What's the odds he claims temporary insanity + a plea-bargain & quietly disappears, to be given a new identity?

Truly scary if the US internal security are doing this - they only need a rethuglican to win in 2016 & you can kiss a permanent goodbye to any sembalnce of a US democracy ...
In fact, it's starting to read horribly like parts of The Trade of Queens isn't it?

219:

the official back story for Tamerlan Tsarnaev simply doesn't make sense. It requires us to believe that both the FBI and the Russian security services gave him a clean bill of health

Not really, because such checks don't give a binary result - more like shades of grey. There are potentially large numbers of people who do something that fits with one of the patterns of behaviour a terrorist might follow; few actual terrorists; and limited resources to deal with them. Some form of prioritisation is always going to happen.

Given that any intelligence will involve words like "possibly", "probably", and "maybe"; that the source of the information and the quality of the information may not be top-notch; you might end up with "he wasn't regarded as the top priority for surveillance" (this turned out to be the case with the London bombers, IIRC) - discussion after that is hindsight.

:) Assuming false-flag operations as a most-likely answer would be like assuming there was a secret government weather-control machine because the forecast was wrong... :)

220:

Craig Murray, given his career and experiences, doesn't seem likely to make that mistake. Looking the the work he lists, in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I seriously doubt that he hasn't had to deal with intelligence briefings.

For instance: In Autumn 1998 Craig Murray was the UK Representative at the Sierra Leone Peace talks held in Togo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including direct negotiation with the RUF terrorist leadership.

Since he says that, at the relevant time, cooperation between the USA and Russia was poor, I can't rule out incompetence as a factor. People are wondering if the FBI cocked-up. And perhaps what the FBI did say to the Russians was misunderstood. It's a Police Jargon problem, perhaps.

But even then the guy is apparently able to go back to Russian controlled territory without any big problems.

There's something funny about the story, but how much of that story can be relied on, the way the press reports stuff, I wouldn't care to bet on.

And I skimmed the first few comments. There's some weird ideas out there. Craid Murray might be wrong, but I don't think he's crazy.

221:

Well, with regard to the trip, the FBI is effectively claiming they screwed up due to a filing error. The story now goes Aeroflot mis-spelled Tamerlan's name on the flight manifest they gave the government, and as a result, the FBI didn't connect the guy who was on the plane to Russia with the guy that they'd earlier interviewed at the instigation of the Russian government. (And I'm not sure that there's any official account of what he did while he was there, though at this point, there are certainly grounds for suspicion.)

source: http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/immigration-change-helped-track-alleged-boston-bomber/story?id=19020989#.UXbTyKpfIjk

222:

One thing I'd note about the FBI is that their new electronic case management system didn't become operational until May of last year. Before that they tracked cases using paper and a hodge-podge of 1980s era databases.

One thing I'm wondering is whether the Russian request inadvertently led to the attacks. The reason why Tamerlan wasn't an American citizen like his brother is because his naturalization application was rejected, which probably didn't help his feelings of alienation. The reason why his application was rejected was because he had been investigated by the FBI.

223:

As I understand it his applications was also rejected because of a domestic abuse incident. He was the best boxer in Boston, but since he beat up his girlfriend his future was over. Once you wound an animal you need to kill it quickly or get some distance. The worst thing is to make something that hates you and feels impotent and keep it near you (also applies to a certain poorly managed international situation that shall remain un-named). If he had a refugee visa, he shouldn't have been let back into the country--if he went back to where he was supposedly taking refuge from, it couldn't be that bad, now could it?

Also, he had NO job and a pretty nice lifestyle.
My completely amateur theory is that he did the job for the benefit of the Chechen's, who wanted it done because they cut a deal with Al Qaeda to do a hit for them in return for some kind of assistance in their fight against the Russians.

Also I suspect a primary purpose of many FBI investigations of people suspected of terrorist contacts is to turn them into assets rather than to check them out as threats.

224:

Chechen extremists haven't attacked the US before and I don't see why they'd start now. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claims that they had no outside help, though he's not exactly the last word in reliability. If his brother did get professional terrorist training in Russia I'd say it didn't stick.

225:

A new saying should be "Great Conspiracies require great proof." Not great willingness to believe.

226:

Well, at the moment the idea of two lone wolves is the null hypothesis; as already mentioned, i don't believe into a conspiracy myself, but i wouldn't be that surprised, either.

if you want to see a real intelligence clusterfuck, we are just having one of those in germany, atm, with regards to our extreme political right. on the one hand, when they tried to ban our local bnp substitute a few years ago, there was this nice bit where the whole party seemed to be in the pay of the german verfassungsschutz:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Democratic_Party_of_Germany#The_2001.E2.80.932003_banning_attempt

but then, all of this didn't help against a terrorist organisation in close connection with parts of said bnp substitute, where some of the very same people in pay by the verfassungsschutz were good friends with those:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Underground

the current interpretation seems to be that the neonazis pwned the intelligence guys, giving useless information and getting money or other niceties.

for added lulz, there was a talk by some gals from a parliamentary investigative commision lately, the gals in question being from "die linke", former pds, former sed, for what it's worth, so tread with some care. where according to them, a further complication is some of these contacts might be in the pay of, err, "foreign actors". no further elaboration, except it were still somewhat rumors and she wouldn't say more. please note that their party has some quarrels with the verfassungsschutz of its own

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Left_(Germany)#Observation_by_Verfassungsschutz

so they may not really be objective observers, but than, who is?

as for conspiracy theories in general, imho the opposition in those must fulfill two somewhat contradictory criteria:

a) the must be identifiable as "the other"
b) they must be known to the believers, since part of the function of said theories is to create something of an illusion of control. so it has to be the fbi or aq, but not some obscure group of foot fetishist from upper volta.

back to boston, at the moment, there is this idea about an armenian convert to islam radicalizing the guys

http://theweek.com/article/index/243163/who-is-misha-the-armenian-muslim-who-radicalized-tamerlan-tsarnaev

which might be some kind of rationalisation by part of the family, a lead to international groups, or a fsb agent. and in the latter case, there is the nice problem how much he was involved. might be he was something of an eliza to tamerlan and didn't plant anything new in his mid, might be he was an agent provocateur. also note that when you ask for money with your superiors, it helps showing some progress, so building up two guys as a terrorist thread makes sense for an operative, even without some nefarious plan from moscow.

that being said, i can't exclude that in some sub-basement of the fsb, right next to the boiler room and the rusty door with "thirteenth directorate, don't open" in big unfriendly cyrillic letters on it, in the department you end up when you post semi-professional porn involving you and some friends, involving the daughter of our boss, on youporn or whatever, there are some strange confessions atm:

"err, dmitry?" "yes, igor?" "you have some time?" "well, yes, boris and tasha are just out fetching something to eat and some vodka for our spooks marathon evening, so dawai..."

"well, dmitry, you remember this christmas party some years ago, err, wait, video marathon?"

"we got some money from foreign language practice. and a beamer. come on..."

"well, you remember how anatoly bogdan, chief contact with the us embassy, came back from a talk and said he wished for once those western pussies had to deal with those caucasus guys, and kirill from military ops was really drunk and said we could orchestrate something, and our boss olga, drunk too, thought this a good time to show she had balls and said for once we from telephone sanitization could do something besides up, err, downloading porn, luckily she saw leonid was near, no point reminding him about nadja, you see, and they put up a memorandum and forgot about it, they were really drunk, you see (speaks faster), and when it surfaced during spring cleaning, they were too embarrased to see their error and ordered us to go on, and next time you were in the us, you met those losers, put them up and cartered them to the fbi, except they didn't find anything (slowly goes hysteric), so when it was my turn to visit the international congress of telephone sanitizers in providence, masse, err, whatever, you briefed me to push them a little further, not really much, you see, just some small firework, and you said that nobody shoud get hurt, and i should leave no traces, and if anything went wrong, i would dance in drag on the next fsb christmas party, and you would send me to syria, and then you would get really imaginative, and, err..."

and, the chime in with ogh, i was wrong before.

228:

Talking of "Ignoring" the news ..

How about deliberately suppressing the news, complete with secret courts & secret trails & gagging orders on the convictions.
Right here in Britain
Started by Blair (of course) but still in effect, under Camoron.

Health warning, it is from the Daily Nazi, so should be read with great care.
But, they have gone public on it, so ...
See: HERE and a comment article ... here as well

What really strikes me as sinister is the name of this secret-jailing organisation:
"The Court of Protection"
Reminds me of: "Committee of Public Safety"

229:

Has anyone ever noticed how many exciting fictional characters, whether freelance or agents for state-sponsored bodies, behave like the actors behind conspiracy theories.

The idea sells. It must have a certain semi-conscious appeal to the mass audience.

OGH has the Laundry. There was Bulldog Drummond and Simon Templar. There is James Bond (now with Royal Approval), and there was Modesty Blaise. Some of this may be linked to the long secret war against Communism, but it was around before the 1917 Revolution.

We've learned, as consumers of entertainment, to like this stuff, and maybe that makes is more susceptible to other uses of the meme-set.

And something like Al-Qaeda sounds awfully like the fictions of SPECTRE and THRUSH.

Specials

Merchandise

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 16, 2013 5:50 AM.

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