It’s Nice When the World Makes Sense

Even if the underlying facts aren’t so great at all.

Case 1: Paul Krugman ties together two recent stories: how the economic evidence for cutting government spending during a recession is non-existent, and how cutting spending on programs like Medicare and Social Security is the preferred strategy of the rich. It probably won’t make any difference that the scientific support for government austerity during an economic downturn has been demolished, since facts don’t necessarily trump ideology. For the most part, the political class is subservient to the upper class. Marx, who helped generate a vast number of ideologists himself, wasn’t wrong about everything.

Krugman cites the study I wrote about under the title “What the 1% Want from Washington”:

Case 2:  According to the New York Times, the Boston police commissioner admitted this week that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (joh-KHAHR’ tsahr-NEYE’-ehv) and the boat in which he hid were both in the 20-block search perimeter all along. It’s not clear why Tsarnaev wasn’t found during the manhunt, but it wasn’t because the boat was 1 block outside the search perimeter, as the Watertown police chief claimed. (See the post below, which includes a transcript of the police discussing where to search.)

In this case, it didn’t make sense that a small army of police failed to search an area 2 or 3 blocks from where the guy dumped his getaway car. What didn’t make any sense now makes some sense. People make mistakes and then make excuses. No shock there. 

Stop Me Before I Write About the Boston Manhunt Again!

(See postscript below — The Boston police commissioner has admitted that Tsarnaev was in the perimeter all along. That’s good enough for me. I can go back to more productive activities, like sleeping and mowing the lawn.)

Ok, I’m going to stop writing about this until someone in the media or someone writing a book explains exactly where the police searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the gun battle in Watertown. Then I can write that someone has finally offered a better explanation of why they didn’t find him during the manhunt.

But first —

I still think the guy was inside the famous 20-block perimeter all the time (not that it matters, of course, in the grand scheme of things).

Here is a map of Watertown that shows the streets discussed in this post. Point A is near where Tsarnaev abandoned his getaway car. Point B is where he was captured:

The NY Times has published a long article that begins with the murder of the M.I.T. officer and concludes with the capture at 67 Franklin Street. Here’s what they say about the search in the “20-block perimeter”:

“I yelled to the cops, ‘Watch out!’ ” Mr. Doucette said in an interview. But the car hit the wounded brother, he said, and “his body was tumbling underneath.”

As Friday dawned, state officials urged people in the Boston area to stay behind locked doors, and all transit service was shut down — paralyzing the metropolitan area as officials searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. That evening they lifted the order, fearing he had escaped.

That’s not terribly informative (maybe the editors cut something), but next to the article, the Times has provided excerpts picked up by police scanners. One selection, labeled “Hunting for the Suspects” is 1 minute and 59 seconds long:

These excerpts confirm that the abandoned getaway car (the hijacked SUV) was found at the corner of Lincoln and Spruce. (Lincoln and Spruce is between points A and B on the map above.)

An officer then refers to someone (possibly himself) being on foot near Dexter and Laurel, where the gun battle occurred earlier that night.

Next, someone advises officers not to investigate around Lincoln Street (in the vicinity of the SUV) without a partner.

Then someone relays an order to set up a perimeter between Mount Auburn and Arsenal Streets, an area that includes 67 Franklin Street (where Tsarnaev was captured) and the SUV, but also extends eastward past Dexter and Laurel (scene of the gun battle) all the way to Arlington Street (at the eastern edge of the map above).

A senior officer then states that he is at 98 Spruce Street, a few houses south of the abandoned SUV. He says that the search perimeter needs to be expanded in 4 directions, centered around 98 Spruce. He wants a perimeter in a 3-block radius from that location (this is a relatively small area within the larger Mount Auburn-Arsenal-Arlington perimeter).

Depending on how you count the blocks, which aren’t consistently shaped, it looks as if a 3-block radius from 98 Spruce would include 67 Franklin Street at its western edge.

This is a map showing the distance between 98 Spruce and 67 Franklin (according to Google, it’s 0.3 miles and a 6-minute walk — less if you cut through people’s backyards).

The same officer then says the perimeter should be “at least 2-blocks deep for now”, which might leave 67 Franklin out of the immediate search, “and then expand it”, presumably putting 67 Franklin back in.

Another officer relays an order to maintain the perimeter at the Mount Auburn and Arsenal boundaries, but to move the boundary on the east side to School Street (which runs parallel to Arlington). This eliminates the area around the gun battle, which happened east of School Street, and tightens the perimeter around the the SUV and Franklin Street.

This officer then goes on to say “2 blocks away [from 98 Spruce] is also Walnut Street, which runs from School to Mount Auburn”. This indicates that the 2-block radius mentioned above (which was supposed to be expanded to 3-blocks later on) was bounded by Walnut Street and did not include Franklin Street.

The senior officer who spoke before then says “O.k. Once we have officers complete that, expand it 2 more blocks [i.e. from 2 to 4] from those areas [meaning 4 blocks from 98 Spruce]… We have plenty of police officers here. Let’s start utilizing them. From 98 Spruce, 2 blocks and then 4 blocks”.

That’s where the audio ends. A 4-block perimeter centered on 98 Spruce Street would have included 67 Franklin Street, which is just 1 block from Walnut Street, and 3 blocks from 98 Spruce.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any timestamps on this recording, so it’s not clear when all this happened. In one press conference, the Watertown police chief said that blood was found at a house after the SUV was abandoned (maybe this was 98 Spruce Street). He also says that Tsarnaev didn’t go directly to 67 Franklin, suggesting that, at some point, the suspect may have crossed one of the smaller perimeters on foot without being detected.

So it still isn’t clear whether the police searched around 67 Franklin, before or after Tsarnaev found his way there.

The police chief  has explained that Tsarnaev wasn’t found earlier because he was hiding 1 block outside the search perimeter. If that’s true, the search never went beyond Walnut Street, 2 blocks from 98 Spruce.

Yet there was an order to search 4 blocks away from that address.  67 Franklin is clearly within that 4-block radius.

And, of course, Franklin Street is well-within the larger Mount Auburn-Arsenal-School Street perimeter. That larger perimeter roughly corresponds to a 20-block area of Watertown, and it’s been stated many times that the search in Watertown involved 20 square blocks.


I’m surprised and embarrassed (and pleased) to see that this information is on the last page of the Times article cited above:

“Police officials initially said the boat was in the backyard of a house just outside the perimeter of the area where investigators had conducted door-to-door searches all day. But Commissioner Davis, of the Boston police, said this week that the boat had been inside the perimeter.

‘It was an area that should have been checked,’ he said. ‘We are not sure how long he was in the boat. There was a pool of blood near where the car was dumped about four or five blocks away from the boat.’

I confess that I didn’t read the last page of the article, since the reporters skipped over the manhunt so quickly, I assumed they didn’t have anything more to say on the matter.

It’s also kind of interesting that the Times article may have been the first place this news was printed. A Google search just showed that the quote from the police commissioner has only been printed on 4 other sites, all in the past 14 hours.

This, therefore, is another change that should be added to this article from Salon:

Let’s Fast Forward to the Capture

Late last night, after writing a long post about the Boston manhunt, I noticed that Wolf Blitzer had done another interview on CNN with the Watertown police chief. The headline on the interview suggested that the chief would lay out the details of the events in Watertown.

So I wondered if the chief had finally admitted that the manhunt failed to find its target even though that famous backyard boat appears to have been near the center of the 20-block search perimeter, only 2/10ths of a mile (a 4-minute walk) from where the suspect dumped his getaway car. I watched the whole interview to find out.

Oddly, when Blitzer got to the point of discussing the manhunt, he quickly moved ahead to the capture (“let’s fast forward”). Maybe he knew that it would be embarrassing for the chief to discuss the police’s failure to find the suspect.

Many years ago, when I worked in the Los Angeles County court system, I discovered that the news media always tend to get some of their facts wrong. Reporters would often cover trials that I was observing first-hand and then write stories that were inaccurate in some way.

No doubt, this inaccuracy is usually the result of simple human error. But other times, reporters ignore certain facts because they don’t fit the overall story they’re telling, or because certain facts would embarrass their sources (e.g. police chiefs who want to make their department look good).

The story we’re being told about the Boston bombing is that the police did a wonderful job protecting the citizens of Boston.

The fact that they couldn’t find a 19-year old college kid, hiding a couple of blocks from where he left his getaway car, doesn’t fit the narrative. (It’s also part of the narrative that it was reasonable to shut down a city of 4 million people in order to protect it.)

We are supposed to admire and be grateful to the people who protect us, whether it’s the police, the FBI or the U.S. Marines. Most of us are, up to a point. But some think that stories reflecting poorly on our protectors should be avoided, if possible. It’s almost as if we should behave or be treated like children who mustn’t question the competence or good faith of our parents.

Wolf asks how the suspect escaped at 10:18 and “fast forwards” at 11:28, not having received much of an answer:

Something That Doesn’t Make Sense About the Boston Manhunt

When a major event occurs, the news media usually report certain facts over and over. Other facts, just as interesting or relevant, are often ignored. This has happened again in the case of the recent manhunt in a suburb of Boston.

The story that’s been told again and again is that the 19-year old suspect escaped on foot after his brother was killed in a shootout with the police. The police then established a 20-block perimeter and did an extensive search but couldn’t find him. After the police told everyone that they could come out of their houses again, a resident quickly discovered the suspect hiding in a boat in his backyard.

At a subsequent press conference, one of the officers in charge said that the suspect was able to escape on foot because it was dark and there was a lot of smoke from the gunfire and explosives. He also said that the suspect wasn’t found during the door-to-door manhunt because his hiding place was just outside the search perimeter.

But this story didn’t sound right. There had been reports that the suspect drove away from the shootout, after running over his brother. He must have left his car (the highjacked SUV) somewhere, but that wasn’t discussed in the news reports. If the suspect ran away on foot, as the police said, it was also curious that he was able to find a hiding place just outside the perimeter. How far did he run? Where was the perimeter set up so that it didn’t include 67 Franklin Street, his eventual hiding place?

It wasn’t easy to figure out what happened, since the exact locations and the use of the getaway car weren’t discussed in the national media reports. But after some internet searching, it appears that this is what actually happened. It doesn’t make the police look especially good.

The gun battle occurred near the intersection of Laurel Avenue and Dexter Street in Watertown.

The suspect, leaving his brother behind, then drove west on Laurel Avenue, past School Street, where Laurel turns into Spruce Street. He continued driving west on Spruce, past another 20 houses or so, and then drove up Spruce as it curves towards the northwest. This is plausible — he drove about 4/10ths of a mile from the gun battle, around a bend in the road, and then parked the car near the intersection of Spruce and Lincoln Avenue. This is where the empty SUV was found.

The suspect then ran away on foot. It’s not clear what route he took, but it seems unlikely that he would continue walking northwest on Spruce. The most direct route from the Spruce/Lincoln intersection to his hiding place is to go west on Lincoln, cross over Walnut Ave, and then head down Franklin Avenue (or parallel to it), eventually finding the boat at 67 Franklin.  

The distance from the Spruce/Lincoln intersection to 67 Franklin Street is only 2/10ths of a mile. Google says it’s about a 4-minute walk. We don’t know if he went in a straight line, but it makes sense that he quit walking when he saw a likely hiding place.

Point A is where the SUV was left. Point B is where the suspect was found.

So the suspect traveled 6 or 7/10ths of a mile from the gun battle, by SUV and on foot, and ended up only 2/10ths of a mile from the SUV. Why wasn’t he found during the manhunt?

I couldn’t find a map of the 20-block search perimeter anywhere. According to some news reports, however, the perimeter was bordered by two major streets: Mount Auburn Street on the north and Arsenal Street on the south (since Mount Auburn runs toward the southwest, these two streets eventually intersect). 

It turns out that, according to someone who claims to have been listening to a police scanner, the eastern boundary of the perimeter was School Street, which runs north and south. These three streets (Mount Auburn, Arsenal and School) form a right triangle, roughly the shape of New York State, with the right angle being the intersection of Arsenal and School.

Is this the 20-block perimeter? The streets in this area don’t form a grid, so it’s difficult to count the blocks. But it seems to be in the vicinity of 20 blocks, if you average them out (some of the blocks are relatively small and some are relatively large).

It does seem plausible that this triangle is the perimeter. Its boundaries are major streets — perhaps the police thought that the suspect wouldn’t have been able to cross any major streets on foot, given all the officers in the area. For another reason, the intersection of Lincoln and Spruce is roughly near the center of the triangle. It makes sense to establish a perimeter around the place where the suspect started escaping on foot.

What’s remarkable about this perimeter, however, is that 67 Franklin Street is also near the center of the triangle (which makes sense, since it’s only 2/10ths of a mile away from where the SUV was found).

Yet during the post-capture press conference, when a reporter asked the officer in charge how the suspect was able to escape the manhunt, the officer said that 67 Franklin Street was “just outside the perimeter”. 

Maybe it was, but that doesn’t seem to be the case unless the perimeter was established somewhere else, downplaying the location of the empty SUV. Is it possible that someone was supposed to search around 67 Franklin and simply missed the suspect? Is it possible that the suspect hid somewhere else and eventually found his way to 67 Franklin, after that address had been searched? Is it possible that there was a trail of blood from the SUV to the boat that nobody noticed? Could dogs have been used to track the suspect?

And how could smoke have obscured suspect #2’s escape if he simply drove down Spruce Street after the gun battle, getting out of the SUV 6/10ths of a mile away? Did anyone actually pursue suspect #2 after the gun battle or was everyone (understandably) tending to suspect #1 and the officer who was wounded?

None of this is clear, but neither is the explanation given by the police.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what actually happened, so long as the suspect was caught. But there was something that didn’t make sense and now, to me anyway, it does.

“gun battle at Dexter and Laurel Streets”:

Abandoned SUV at Laurel and Spruce St”:

“20-block perimeter bordered by Arsenal Street and Mount Auburn Avenue”:

“Perimeter: Mt. Auburn to Arsenal St. to School St.”:

Postscript on 4/23:

In the comments, someone has pointed out that the police may have searched east of Walnut Street. Maybe they got a tip that convinced them to do that. I still think it would have been odd that such an intensive search didn’t include areas closer to where the SUV was abandoned. Searching an area of 20 blocks east of Walnut would mean that the search was seriously skewed toward the east. Reporters should have asked about this by now, or the police should have explained their decision without being asked.

Maybe some journalist is writing a book about these events already, and it will all become clear one day.

If nothing else, however, the people who were told to stay in their houses deserve an explanation, especially since Tsarnaev was found only after a resident was told it was relatively safe to leave his house (although it was still relatively dangerous, considering who was in his backyard).