The Good and Bad of Leaks

 Posted by  Disasters and Tragedies, Terrorism, The Media  Comments Off on The Good and Bad of Leaks
Oct 092013

Anonymous sources keep the government honest.

One of my favorite West Wing quotes is when CJ Craig, the fictional White House Press Secretary, discusses how leaks are a necessary part of governing:   “There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It’s how I know for sure the government isn’t covering up aliens in New Mexico.”  Leaks keep the government honest.  Without Deep Throat, we wouldn’t have known that Richard Nixon attempted election fraud.  (Which was the point of the Watergate break-in; to steal campaign documents from the DNC.)  Without the Pentagon Papers, it might have taken years to uncover the incompetence within the Pentagon, and dishonesty from the White House, that undercut our efforts in Vietnam.  Anonymous sources give the public necessary information about corruption and incompetence, and are the ultimate defense against the creation of secret conspiracies that would be against the public’s best interest.

But anonymous sources also ruin lives.

A classic-but-modern example of this is Richard Jewell.  Mr. Jewell was working as a security guard at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  He spotted a suspicious bag, called it in, and started moving people away from it.  It turned out, that bag contained a bomb.  Mr. Jewell saved lives that day.

But then the FBI began to suspect that maybe he was involved in planting the bag in the first place, so that he could play the part of hero.  They never had any hard evidence of this–only a general profile gathered from Mr. Jewell’s work history that was similar to people who had done this in the past.  He was the FBI’s primary suspect for almost three months before he was officially cleared.  (The bomber turned out to be a right-wing anti-abortion activist; he was caught about a decade later.)

All of that would have been fine–except for that someone in the FBI leaked the fact that Mr. Jewell was a suspect to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  That anonymous source triggered every major news paper in the country–and many internationally–to dig into his past.  He received death threats, he became unemployable, he had the media stalk him and his family.  The FBI had absolutely no evidence linking Mr. Jewell to the bomb, and yet it destroyed his life in a very real way.  (Eventually he received an apology from the FBI, he settled a liable suit against several major news outlets, got a job as a Sheriff’s Deputy in Georgia, and died of diabetes a few years ago.)

So I like leaks.  I want people who work in government to tell dirty secrets to reporters.  But I also want those reporters to exercise restraint in what they publish.  The people do not have a “right” to know every last detail.  Reporters who fail to understand that have no place in the business.

Buried Racism

 Posted by  Crime, Disasters and Tragedies, Immigration, Racism  Comments Off on Buried Racism
May 062013

I keep hoping that we’re better than this.

By “this”, I’m referring to the ‘controversy’ surrounding where to bury Tamerlan Tsarnev, the oldest of the two Boston Marathon bombers.  Tsarnev’s uncle came to Massachusetts to oversee the burial for the family.  A funeral home in Worcester, MA (a small city about 90 mins west of Boston) agreed to handle the arrangements–and have faced public criticism for doing so, including protesters outside the funeral home.  Finding a cemetery is proving a bit more problematic.  The Uncle is trying to find one in the Boston area, although the Cambridge City Manager (think “mayor”) has preemptively denied permission to bury him in any of the city-owned cemeteries, supposedly in the interests of “peace within the city”.

The man is dead, people.  Loved ones can’t get cooties from being buried next to a dead terrorist–any more than by being buried next to a dead black man or a dead Jew.

I don’t really care about Tamerlane.  But funerals, cemeteries, and other burial rites aren’t about the corpse.  They are about bringing closure to the families and friends of the deceased.  They are about trying to find solace and healing.  And right now, the Tsarnev family needs healing.  Not only did they lose a family member–a son, a father, a husband, a brother, and a nephew–they are also struggling to deal with how their boy could have done something so terrible.  This is a time of confusion, sadness, and guilty, for all of them.

And now protesters, the media, and local politicians are piling onto the family–trying to deny them the ability to bury their son and start the healing process?  That’s downright cruel.

Besides, let’s call a spade a spade.  I don’t recall any such controversies when we’ve buried serial killers and terrorists in the past.  Did people protest Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, being buried on American soil?  What about the DC sniper?  The Unibomber?  The Newtowne shooter, Adam Lanza?  All of those killed many more people than did Tamerlan Tsarnev.

The difference is that Tsarnev is a Muslim immigrant.  The attempts to deny burial rites for his family stems not from some greater feeling that terrorists shouldn’t be buried on American soil.  It’s a reflection of anti-Muslim hatred.   It’s racism, pure and simple.

Seriously, people, we’re better than that.  Or at least we ought to be.

Sympathy for the Dzhokhar

 Posted by  Book Related, Disasters and Tragedies, Terrorism  Comments Off on Sympathy for the Dzhokhar
Apr 232013

Apparently I have something in common with the nation’s latest terrorist; we both love going to the Midwest Grill, a Brazilian BBQ Restaurant in my (our?) neighborhood.  We were also both captains of our respective high school wrestling teams and members of the National Honor Society.  His friends from high school talked about him going out of his way to help out, giving rides home, and coming back to his high school to help out for wrestling practice after he had graduated–all things I can relate to.  For all those reasons–not to mention the fact that he only lived about a quarter mile from me–it’s really hard for me not to relate to him.

Which makes the events of the last week all that much more baffling for me.  How could this kid get so twisted that he placed two bombs in a crowd of people, shot a police officer in cold blood, and hijacked a car at gun-point?

I have nothing but sympathy for the friends and families of the victims.  The eight year old boy whose life was ended just as it was beginning.  The graduate student from China who loved living in Boston.  The  restaurant manager from the suburbs who never missed a marathon.  And the MIT officer who was the consummate policeman.

But it’s the bomber, suspect number two, the one who was just arraigned on federal charges from a hospital room yesterday… he’s the one whose story seems most familiar to me.  And yet he’s the one who maybe I will never understand.  Because for all the similarity, how could I understand what drove him to commit such an act of evil–an act that is so viscerally repellent to me I have trouble even watching the footage of it?

Understanding is especially difficult because human motives are never easily understood.  They are never so simple as we would like them to be.  It would be nice if there were a simple, clean, explanation for why he did it.  His evil brother made him do it.  His felt abandoned by his family.  He felt abandoned by his friends.  He fell in with a bad crowd.  He started listening to the wrong preachers.  He was depressed.  He was angry.  He was on drugs.  He was crazy.

But the truth is always more complicated.  The truth is some combination of some or all of those things–and more.  The truth is that human beings are extraordinarily intricate creatures who usually don’t fully know why we do what we do, and who rationalize our behavior after the fact to make ourselves feel better about what we’ve done.

The best we can do is to understand his actions and associations.  Did anyone help him or fund him or advise him?  What else were they planning on doing?  Did they commit any other crimes before the marathon?  Those are all important questions.

As for motive?  Why he did it?  As much as I would love to know… it’s a fool’s errand.

Finally, let me end by quoting Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of the Boston Archdiocese: “Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime.  But, in our hearts, when we are unable to forgive, we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred.”


We’ve talked about gun control before on this site, and it looks like Congress is moving forward with a few basic proposals for tightening background checks and possibly for banning certain kinds of assault rifles and ammunition clips.  All of that is fine and good, but I honestly don’t think it will do much good.  It doesn’t go nearly far enough.

So I thought I would take this time to describe what my ideal world would look like.  And no, it isn’t a world without guns. Continue reading »


Personally, (unlike my coauthor, it would seem) I’m appreciative of the current gun-control debate that has been sparked by the recent horrific shooting in Connecticut. But I do think that we should take my coauthor’s advice and have a real policy debate on gun-control, and not simply restrict a bunch of freedoms in a misguided, reactionary effort to make us safer.

So with that in mind, I’d like to address one of the most pervasive and fundamental pro-Second Amendment arguments out there: the idea that guns are necessary as the ultimate protection of our freedoms against tyranny. I’ve heard this argument put forward to mean one of three things, all of which have very different connotations for the right to bear arms.
Continue reading »

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