Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Examined and the Unexamined

By all accounts it has been quite a week. Most of the national attention has been focused on Boston, the bombings, the manhunt, the capture, and the questions of how, why, and what happens next. As rapid as events moved from posting pictures of the suspects to identifying them, the media's speculations moved just as quickly.




From the first it was clear this was going to be a little complicated, and not fit any pre-selected narrative. The suspects were white, or seemed white, "dark-skinned" whites, some outlets named them. They were Muslim, they were Chechen, they were citizens-or were they? Were they trained by al-Qaeda, was this a foreign terror plot? It would come out that while ethnically Chechen the brothers nor their family had never lived in Chechen but had lived in Russia. Such is Americans grasp of geography that the Czech republic had to put out a statement that, in fact, Chechnya was a different country and not the Czech republic.  Were they "Americans" really was the gist of a lot of the questions-were they citizens, had they lived here. It would seem that, citizens or not (the older one is not, the younger one, the one currently in custody, is) they had lived in the US for some time and appeared pretty "American" if by that you mean in terms of culture.

As many people pointed out on twitter the rampant speculation of who the brothers really were, and the various possibilities of their motives and role of Islam knew no bounds. As other people in twitter noted it is worth comparing this speculation of individual motives to the speculation that occurs after serious terrorism-like crimes by white people-Adam Lanza, Eric Rodolph, Jared Loughner. White maleness never goes under the microscope like muslimness does.

And such wild, unfounded-in-fact speculation does not occur when corporations are involved. If your company is going to have a major industrial "accident" that flattens 35% a town and kills at least 14 people you have to thankful it comes when the entire country is looking somewhere else. The plant that exploded was a fertilizer plant which stored up to 100,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, including two 12,000 tanks.  It also had up to 520,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. Does that sound, well, maybe a little dangerous?  The West Texas Fertilizer company did file a report with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that there was "no risk" of fire or explosion. Am I the only person who thinks this is crazy? You are storing ammonium nitrate, a known explosive, you are in Texas, which has a history of extreme weather, high heat if nothing else. As detailed by the terrific WSJ stream (previous link, just scroll for earlier information) the plant was built in the 1960s, "grandfathered" into the modern era without having to conform to modern regulatory standards and even required a fine to get the right permit. Does this sound like "reckless endangerment" to you? Does this sound like an organization that maybe put profits before people? What are the odds that the West Fertilizer Co. will be put in a court of law, and tried for its crimes?

I'm joking of course, what will happen, if a past is any indication, that the West Fertilizer  Co., which apparently only employed about ten people (JOB CREATORS) will get a fine, relatively small considering its profit margins, and carry on. The first responders who came to the scene, who are thought to make up most of the dead, were a volunteer force. This is not unusual in a small town, but besides not getting paid "volunteer" means that the families of the dead will get little, if any, in compensation. The company has been pledging "support", but at this time that does not appear to include anything of a major financial nature. There are already funds set up for victims but I would like to know why the people who ultimately responsible for the blast-accident or no accident-are not paying for it.

As some commentators pointed out, one of the reasons why the causalities in Boston post-bombing were so low was such a quick response by the first responders, police, ER workers and the like. You could also call them "government employees" and "union-members" as well. The same media and elite which is quick to praise the public workers when disaster strikes is often the same media that insists their salaries-partially in the form of pension costs--are unreasonable. If we are going to live in a world where things happen, bombings, explosions, extreme weather, it is worth it to examine the costs of this world, what is the best way to pay for it, and who should bear the costs.

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