Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Organizational Stupidity is Behind the Boston Marathon Disaster


Friday update: America's enemies are probably feeling encouraged this morning: apparently all it takes to destroy it (through bankruptcy) is some small number of pressure cookers loaded with explosive and shrapnel. Each such event produces a stunningly ridiculous amount of police activity costing millions, if not billions, of dollars. It would be interesting to find out how many billions of economic damage per pressure cooker it is.

People are asking me what I think of the two Chechen/Daghestani kids who have been accused of causing the explosions, and, upon finding out that they are hunted men, decided to go out in a blaze of glory by holding up a convenience store, carjacking an SUV and arranging to have a shootout with the police. Well, since they probably thought the alternative was something like being force-fed at Guantanamo for the rest of their lives, that might be seen as a rational choice. Such behavior, as well as the fact that they had semiautomatic weapons and hand grenades on hand, is also in keeping with the Chechen/Daghestani ethos, which is resistant of accepting any external authority. Based on what I hear of their antics, it seems like they weren't trying to flee; they just wanted to “die well.” As to whether they were responsible or complicit in the bombings—I simply don't know. My only source of information is what is leaking out through the media, and at this point I have to treat all of it as hearsay, rumor, fabrication and/or idle speculation. Not that I think that there is a conspiracy, mind you—just some nonsense cooked up by people who are under a lot of pressure to look like they know what they are talking about.

Please keep in mind that terrorism is an insignificant source of accidental death in the US (unlike, say, Iraq, where there were 50 killed on Marathon Day alone). The main sources of accidental death in the US are cars, guns and doctors.

I was in Boston when it happened, but nowhere near the event: I was across the harbor, in the boatyard, painting a boat, when I heard the news on the radio. Yesterday I walked past the “crime scene,” as it is being called, which was crawling with police and national guard troops, as if there was anything there for them to do. Later I met a friend, and, over a beer, he pointed out a very obvious reason for why the disaster took place.
If you look carefully at archival photos and footage of the Boston Marathon, which spans decades, you will notice that the trash receptacles are made of reinforced concrete. These have the useful property of being relatively bombproof, in the sense of deflecting most of the energy of an explosion upward, so that the passers-by are showered with widely dispersed debris raining from above rather than being blown to bits by shrapnel flying horizontally at supersonic speeds. These concrete receptacles were used for a very good reason: there is no way to prevent wing-nuts from tossing bombs into trash cans; there is, however, a way to minimize the damage caused by the explosions. But at some point during the past few years someone within Boston city government ordered those concrete receptacles replaced with plastic-and-metal ones, scoring a major victory for organizational stupidity, and setting the stage for what essentially became a crime of opportunity. It seems like the wing-nut (of a kind that the human race produces with some regularity) tossed a couple crude home-made time-bombs in trash receptacles along the path of the marathon and drove off, briefly getting off the expressway to drop off his spare bomb at the JFK library, then sped on south. Of course it is important to find him (statistically, he is most likely a white male American) and lock him up. But it is far more important to find the person in city government who ordered the trash receptacles replaced. That person is the terrorist's accomplice—perhaps an unwitting accomplice, but then stupidity is no defense. Oh, and can we please have the bomb-proof trash receptacles back?


Gail Zawacki said...

Do we know for sure the bombs were in trash cans? It seems the true stupidity here is the hysterical reaction to it, when people think nothing of getting into cars KNOWING that 43,000 people die every year in accidents...and millions die around the world from air pollution. There's no telling how many will die from climate change-related disasters - extreme weather, crop failure, and the breakdown of society. And yet nothing is done. It just goes to prove that humans are hard-wired to react to threats they perceive as immediate and are insouciantly oblivious to very real but more distant dangers when it suits them.

subgenius said...

@ gail...

well if you look at, say, this from the NYT...then go to google streetview you see this (#1 blast) and this (#2 blast) (bin is just visible behind the red saab.

Why leave a bag in the street when a handy location generally used for dumping stuff is available to disguise it?


Great insight!

k-dog said...

But had the trash cans been concrete the bombs would have been placed somewhere else so I'll go with apprehending of the wingnut as being top priority.

It is important to dispel the notion that the tragedy was a false flag operation or caused by those horrible bad people in Yemeni mud huts. My the perpetrator be found soon.

Once the wig nut is caught amputation of all four limbs followed by execution would not be punishment enough. - IMHO

And I consider myself a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

For many years we had no public trash cans in public places in the UK, including bus and train stations due to the IRA using the same technique.

I'm not sure why Boston residents would have been worried about bombs in the past. I'd have though they were too busy raising money for Irish terrorists to blow up schoolchildren over in the UK.

Don't think "they" used trash bin in this incident.

1. The blasts seemed to come from closer to the buildings.

2. No reports of fragments of the bins being pulled out of victims.

3. Reports about a 6-liter pressure cooker packed with shrapnel and explosive, hidden in a backpack. An object that big in the bin would would be picked out pretty quickly by the homeless looking for recyclables. Poverty makes trash bins a bad location for terrorists.

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

Dmitri, would you care to speculate re: the motive? I find it strange that no nut has stepped up to boast (anonymously or otherwise) about having done the deed, posting manifestos, etc.

Dmitry Orlov said...


Sure, I'll speculate. Perhaps the perpetrator isn't proud of what he did, having been motivated by money or compulsion rather than ideology, and was a mere functionary acting out of weakness rather than strength. And perhaps the people who compelled him to act wish to remain in the shadows because their motives are base no matter what persuasion one views them from. I don't mean to sound cynical, but I've seen a lot and I am still sometimes surprised by the cynicism (and hypocrisy) of others, and by how low people are willing to stoop for the sake of gaining some minor, temporary advantage. And I suppose that being cynical about the motives of murderers is perfectly justified.

Ryan said...

I see what your getting at K-dog, but don't stop there.

Lets apply the same "eye for an eye" retribution tactics on all American "leaders" who have had a hand in the deaths and limb dismemberments of countless middle eastern civilians as well.

Wouldn't that be interesting?

Dmitry Orlov said...


The dog is you. But stop baying for blood. Accountability is nice, but "an eye for an eye" is a primitive rule for people who can't imagine that God has a wicked sense of humor. Let's not be like that.

yvesT said...

I find this post quite strange from Dmitri, if you want to put a bomb you will find a place, except maybe in an ultra bare concentration camp

sidd said...

Who has the most to gain from this attack....there will you find those responsible.

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

The more general problem is that industrial society is delicate, sabotage and mayhem are easy - and quite inevitable, as the population of desperate and sometimes violent people continues to grow.

Re: "eye for an eye": what we think of as humane and decorous punishments are really an artifact of industrial abundance, and are probably on the way out. In times gone by, long-term imprisonment was virtually unheard of (at least for commoners) due to its expense. I can't say whether barbaric spectacles like impalement, breaking on the wheel, etc. will come back any time soon, but I suspect that mass forced labour will almost certainly make a major comeback in the near future.

k-dog said...

Stanislav; don't forget heads on pikes and going back far enough, crucifixion. Only a century ago in the west hanging parties gave people something to do on a hot afternoon.

Life in the petroleum bubble was good!

Des Carne said...

What's your take on the media focus on 2 young brothers from "Southern Russia, not Chechnya" as primamry persons of interest?

Michael J. Petro said...

k-dog - "Strange fruit" was a deplorable and uniquely American phenomenon, hardly worth evoking in yours and Stanislov's regrettable pantheon of historical examples.

Anonymous said...

Stanislav... I think we already have mass forced labor, no? It is called capitalism. You wanna eat, goota work

rpauli said...

There is a reason why trash cans are concrete, or square or covered: In the late 60's Harvard Square was taken over by anti-war demonstrators and students. Completely taken over, no police control, then parts of Berkeley, Calif also in student hands, and there was a kind of street taunting that provoked a strong police response. There may be film or video - demonstrators took the round wire trash containers, lit them on fire and rolled them to the police lines. Totally effective street weapon. So devastating that almost instantly, trash cans became, non-flammable, or bolted down or square. Also from the sixties, most all government buildings are built with military or access in mind.

rpauli said...

Here is a pic of the trash cans in that 1970 action

It might be wise to bring back the wire trash containers

Jean-Paul Printemps said...

Exactly Kollapsnik. Countries and localities, that value a healthy economy fostering peace and justice, hold the concept of measured response in high esteem. As the United States moves to a Police Industrial Complex, such lavish, media-ready throwing of hardware at all problems become commonplace.

We must ask what is the price tag of such actions? And this must include the arbitrary suspension of commerce during the prolonged lockdown. Doubtless this is information that will not be readily available.

Stanislav Datskovskiy said...

There is an interesting article proposing an explanation for the billion-dollar police response. (For those here who cannot read Russian, try Google Translate.)

The basic thesis of the above is that the fancy army maneuvers are a dress rehearsal for... who knows what. For something. Note that it is quite possible to consider this thesis separately from the "conspiracy angle" on the bombing itself.

Anonymous said...

@Stanislav Datskovskiy re motive, consider the change that has happened in a week: The Point of the Boston Psyop -

"We are all Iraqis now folks. Troops are now comfortable moving along our streets pointing high powered fully automatic weapons at civilians just because they dare to look out their windows. And remember, this all happened on the same day the first shots were fired in the Revolutionary War… in the same town as well."

Ryan said...

Yes Kollapsnik I know. I see it the same way.

I was trying to be sarcastic, which is a very hard thing to accomplish through article comments (or through a computer for that matter).

But thanks for the introspective heads up. If I weren't being sarcastic I would most certainly have needed it. : )

m duncan said...

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