“If It Saves Just One Life”

I agree with this take on how the terrorists won in Boston. This sort of irrational risk aversion is the theme of my book. “Safe” is never an option, in any absolute sense. In order to prevent a potential death of a citizen, the authorities shut the whole town down, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to the local (and probably national) economy. The whole town, that is, except for the Duncan Donuts shops. Which, as he says, really tells you everything you need to know. It was security theater, just like TSA.

11 thoughts on ““If It Saves Just One Life””

  1. the cost isn’t just measured in dollars – it’s measured in the degree to which it trains a population to freak out over minor risk and to trust blindly in authorities.

    It’s even worse than that. Thinking is considered an extreme position. If truth can’t be ignored, it will be denounced.

  2. It is pretty cold to evaluate this in monetary terms. The bad guys were on the move and had more bombs. What would you be saying after an MTA bus was blown up? Let’s see, a $300,000 bus and say, 20 lives. Heh, no big deal, more people died of cancer that day, and the city generated “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Well worth it? If so, I think there is a variable missing from your equation.

    …it’s measured in the degree to which it trains a population to freak out over minor risk and to trust blindly in authorities.

    The population *did not* freak out. They cooperated. This was akin to a healthy immune response of an organism. It shuts down and lets the antibodies do their thing. Consider that Boston had the 24 hour flu. And the authorities did their job–well.

  3. One of Glenn Reynolds’s correspondents made the point that locking down Boston wasn’t a radical step because it’s often done in winter after major storms to facilitate snow removal. Bostonians are evidently used to en masse cocooning at official direction. I’ll give Boston’s authorities the benefit of the doubt on that one.

    But the orgy of police agency self-congratulation I see in the media strikes me as entirely preposterous. So far as I can determine, it was commercial and personal vidcam and smart phone footage that allowed authorities to finger the Tsarnaev brothers and not official cameras.

    After their mugs were known, they were found, confronted and a wild shootout ensued in which the police fired hundreds of rounds and still managed to kill only one of the pair and allowed the other, even though wounded, to escape.

    Police are getting more militarized in their organization all the time, but not in certain crucial respects. Specifically, the marksmanship and fire discipline of big city police rank and file are appallingly bad. The recent trigger-happy Christopher Dorner pursuit debacle here in L.A. was just prologue to what the Boston-area P.D.’s did in pursuit of the Marathon bombers. The lockdown order was probably the only reason the Boston, Watertown, etc., P.D.’s didn’t rack up a collateral damage civilian body count even higher than the LAPD, et al, did out here.

    Based on the amount of blood the alert householder later found on his boat before the denouement, the escaped wounded brother had to be leaving a significant blood trail. But the cops seem to have made no effort to follow it, either with criminalist UV gear or with dogs. Instead, they decided to lock down the whole city and still managed not to find the guy until after the lockdown was lifted.

    For this they’re breaking both arms patting themselves on the back?

    1. “One of Glenn Reynolds’s correspondents made the point that locking down Boston wasn’t a radical step because it’s often done in winter after major storms to facilitate snow removal. ”

      The correspondent was engaging in a bit of overstatement. Shutdown due to snow happened for the first time this past Winter. I’ve been living here for 22 years and that was the first time it happened in Boston. Prior to that they suggested and encouraged people to stay off the road but didn’t force them too. This Winter was the first time they forbade people to be on the road and threatened fines. Bostonians and the surrounding suburbs are NOT used to it and there was serious complaining about it. However not serious enough, I expect, to prevent them from doing it again.

      As far as I can see the efficacy of the lock-down is debatable. Not definitely good or definitely bad. It’s something that has to be analyzed and thought through. I can see both good and bad.

      Additionally, that a bunch of policemen:

      1) emptied their clips

      2) Only dropped one kid

      re-confirms what most of us know – I daresay most or all of those cops never drew their service pistol on the job.


      They certainly were never in a shoot out before unless they came from overseas. To ask them to behave like trained Marines right out of Falujah or a SWAT team is to ask the impossible. They never trained for it. They maybe shoot once a week if that. I bet I shoot more often than most of them. None had, so far as I know, night vision goggles.

      Standard police training is something else that bears thought, going forward. I have heard that New York City has 1000 terrorist police. Boston has none.

  4. The citizens may have been very wise to stay hunkered down. I’d stay in my house if there were 5000 law enforcement officers running around with guns drawn. 200 rounds fired when they caught up with the brothers in the stolen vehicle? Where’d all the missed shots go? No helicopter support at the time of the shootout, allowing one guy to escape? No wonder there were enough Law Enforcement Organization “leaders” to fill-out the cast of a Cecil B. deMille movie congratulating each other Friday night: They needed an enormous group hug to relieve 20 hours of feelings of panic and failure. (Did any of those “leaders” thank the boat owner who fingered the guy? I do not think so, making the security theater’s last act a really bad one. I may have missed one of them thanking the person, however.)

    The other thing that ticked me off was the US Attorney, Ms. Ortiz, who said at the group-hug press conference: “My journey and my office’s journey begins.” Your journey? Just do your JOB and leave the theatrics to Hollywood.

    But what the heck else can you expect in a Certified Blue State like Massachusetts?

  5. Keeping 3.5 million people sheltering in place is 9500 collective years wasted or over 100 lifetimes. If they were able to enjoy it about half as much as going about their business then the loss was correspondingly lower.

  6. It sure felt like something resembling martial law the way they droned on in all the media about locking your doors, etc., and with the closing of the “T” system many places were just forced closed. It definitely sounded like “orders from above” were being given to hunker down.

    But when I got stir-crazy and drove to the local reservoir to walk off some energy, I found several others walking as well, and several cars were parked nearby that clearly belonged to the walkers.

    So in practice, if this was like martial law it was a ‘very lite’ version. The police and other forces were all concentrating on the area several miles away where they’d picked up the “trail” of the guys.

    So even ‘martial law lite’ felt a heck of a lot like a vast overreaction and definitely something that would _never_ have happened in an America not willing to sacrifice a great deal of liberty for safety. Like the one we had until recent decades.

  7. What I couldn’t get over was all this effort to track one 19 year old kid expected to have been (and turned out he was) wounded the previous night in a firefight with over 200 rounds fired. I kept thinking of the people dependent on public transportation and living paycheck to paycheck losing a day of work, because the police couldn’t capture a 19 year old with citizens not expected to protect themselves. Pardon the pun, but finding out the police actually asked Duncan Donuts to stay open for their (the police) sake is icing on the cake.

    For anyone not bothered by this, I’m glad I don’t live in their world.

  8. Well, the potential for more bombs makes a big difference, but obviously the bomber wouldn’t have any on him because bombs are heavy and he’s wounded, on foot, and had been dumping all his bombs.

    So you’ve got a wounded fugitive with a pistol, which is not quite as bad as a non-wounded guy with a pistol. The thing is, metro areas have pistol-wielding, violent perps on the loose all the time. Massachusetts is still looking for several armed and dangerous murderers and hundreds of bank robbers who are still at large, and I don’t even know if they could put a number on how many gun-wielding gas station and liquor store robbers are on the loose at any given time.

    If they treated all those cases like they treated these two bombers they might as well just shut down Boston and turn out the lights.

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