Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hysteria in the Hub

The main headline on the Boston Globe Web site on Saturday was this, "Let the Healing Begin ... Hub Moves Forward."

The issue of fatuous insult to those who lost lives and limbs in that horror aside (what "healing" are we so easily proclaiming, exactly?), and forgetting the annoyance of the Boston media's chronic use of that silly word "Hub" to describe a city of a mere 600,000 (the allusion is to "Hub of the solar system," per Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was evidently drunk when he wrote that about Boston in 1858), I take issue with the questionable notion that the "Hub" should be so ready to move "forward."

Not so fast, Hub of the solar system. Actually, and especially now with the passage of a little time, there might be compelling reason to move backward a bit over last week, to impose better sense about just what the hell happened in Boston, where an entire metropolitan area was shut down while police massed to search "house to house" -- immobilizing the citizenry and businesses to look for a 19-year-old killer who, as it turns out, was found cowering in a boat stored in some guy's yard. As we know,he hid on the boat after somehow managing to escape during the previous night when police, guns blazing, had cornered him and his killer brother.

Wait a minute. Can we ask a few rude questions now? First of all: The guy got away with all those police guns blazing? Nobody is questioning the police performance? Before that, the finish-line mob scene at the Marathon last Monday was also evidently inadequately secured by the police. And nobody is questioning that? (Well, some are, but not in the media. Officers at the NYPD, which knows how to secure a crowd scene, are definitely scratching their heads over how two low-level schmucks with big plans for fame and huge backpacks managed to leave unattended packages, which happened to be bombs, in clear sight on the sidewalk, right at the feet of those crowds.

To its great credit, Salon had this to say on Saturday: "... this week’s spectacle in the Boston area was a testament to the kind of political and media hysteria that, ironically, makes crimes of this sort more likely to happen in the future. ..."

The hysteria had reached full cry after the bombings with the police and political authorities essentially proclaiming martial law in Boston and its suburbs, a stunning move the import of which still seems not to be appreciated in the mainstream media. What kind of a precedent, for example, has this set for the next time there's a nasty bombing or other attack on American soil. Is "lockdown" the new response to danger? What, specifically and legally, does "lockdown" mean, anyway. And why are we so willing to cave to fear and allow constitutional rights to be readily violated?

Besides the dangerous precedent set in Boston by the "Shelter in Place" shutdown and the media
acquiescence, there's another potential disturbing consequence. The right-wing-loon world, always operating in a frisson of anti-government paranoia, has of course seized on the Boston-area police overreaction as an example of what the government is capable of doing with very little provocation to proclaim an emergency. In this case, it was a 19-year-old murderer on the loose. The next time, the way the right-wing media loom-universe is portraying it, this is how the government comes for ... your guns.
The atmosphere of hysteria can enable dangerous psychological reactions among unstable but influential lunatic-fringe nut-cases, rabble-roused by  worthies like Glenn Beck, who quickly sprang into action overthe weekend peddling a delusion that the Obama Administration is shielding a Saudi national who was the true mastermind of the Boston bombings.       

And the paranoid conspiracy right-wing extremist site Infowars, which one of the Boston terrorists happened to be a fan of, as it turns out, has genuine photos and video to show graphically just what a government assault on the citizenry looks like.  Here's the link.

Did we really want to provide actual indisputable evidence -- with video -- to fuel these anti-government paranoid fantasies? Did we really want to send a message to two-bit would-be terrorist bombers everywhere: Look how easy it is to shut down a major metropolitan area, terrify the population, and cause staggering financial losses?



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