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I don't read the Boston Globe very often. I don't know if this is the first time they've tried to do something along the lines of "The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev." I can't tell if it's meant to be truthful like an honest news story is truthful, or truthful like a good novel is truthful. It worries me to think the Globe might not recognize there is a difference, even though some stories have both kinds of truth.

If it were a novel, it would be incoherent. Even knowing that real-life motivations don't have to make any sense (and frequently don't), there are several places where it looks like the Globe is trying to make some kind of scandalous innuendo but I can't tell what. Is the idea that traumatized immigrant parents were overwhelmed by a difficult new life and thus failed to recognize their son needed mental health treatment? Or that they were freaks doing all this weird foreign stuff and that's why the family was so dysfunctional?

One chapter (the second one about the elder brother) seems to be mostly speculation on the family's mental illness. It's neatly framed by investigative journalism--somebody at the Globe talked with a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, who treated the father of the accused in 2003 (and who explained some health problems but "declined to elaborate" about others.) That sets the stage for a urologist to speculate about the mental health of a young man I'm not sure he ever met. (This was not called "taking the piss," for some reason.)

Boxing and other kinds of violence are mentioned on the same page, but not really discussed together, other than the urologist saying "I told Niss that Tamerlan had some form of schizophrenia. That, combined with smoking marijuana and head trauma from boxing had all made him ill." Is it possible to look at a connection between violent sports and this kind of crime without doing horrible things to medical privacy? Head trauma is obviously part of it, but I'm also wondering about the emotional context of going to the gym and routinely punching somebody in the nose.

I was puzzled by the chapter about the sisters. It seemed a little vague on distinctions, between the sisters, between them and their brothers, between them and their parents. So we should be outraged at how the family insisted on the Chechen custom of a girl a man her parents chose for her, when she was 16? But one of the girls didn't marry the guy her family chose. And the one who did was already pregnant?* Her husband turned out to be an abuser. Years later, she was arrested for possession of marijuana. WTF does this have to do with whether her parents were too traumatized to raised children, or whether her brothers belonged to an international terrorist organization, or with whether her older brother was hallucinating monsters or simply a malicious asshole?

I had trouble with the chapters about the family coming to America. The idea that it matters so much whether one is fleeing a proper war between one government and another, or a recognized but improper one between a government and some internal oppressed group, or an even less official war or conflict. And of course, the marathon bombing was part of the war on terror, not crime at all. Oddly (VERY oddly, in the context of an article about the marathon bombing) they didn't seem to acknowledge that the traumatic effects can be pretty similar if you can't get away.

I don't seriously expect you to read the whole thing. I know you have important things to do, children's books about science museums** to recommend to me, socks to alphabetize. But I got the weird impression that the author was judgmental about different things than I was, and it felt peculiar. I'm not horrified, or frightened, or scandalized that a young man might have had schizophrenia. It's awful that he couldn't get treatment for it, but the idea that it's horrifying/frightening/scandalous contributes quite a bit in that direction. (Odd that the article didn't mention that.) And I am outraged that his father's medical privacy is not being respected.

In another direction, I know boxing is a respectable sport requiring strength and skill. Nevertheless...when a young man spends a lot of time either hitting people or training to do it better, it seems like a red flag unless that boxer has very very good control over his temper. The article seemed to treat boxing as if it was a sport like track or swimming; a competitive thing Tamerlan trained hard for and was good at. It felt like it was missing an important point about violence because the author doesn't see boxing as even slightly problematic.

*Because of the peculiar lack of emphasis, I couldn't tell if she was marrying the father of her child, or if her parents wanted her to marry somebody else (as in Tam Lin.) There's a lot of story there, hardly any of it included in the article, because the Globe isn't trying to tell her story. It's trying to tell her brothers' story

**Not the one where children run away from home, hitchhike to Dearborn, break into the Henry Ford Museum, attempt to spend the night in the Allegheny Locomotive or the back seat of the Corvair....


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March 2016


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