Call this a commentary on the commentary. Time has lapsed since that surreal week of weeks -- the week of explosions and a locked-down city and a Senate minority trampling the vast majority's common-sense dreams. We can now sift through the post-trauma media noise and ask: Are we really communicating? Many talk, but who is listening?
First, there's emphasis: Reporters could have fixed on the mushroom cloud over West, Texas, where a fertilizer plant blew up, killed more than a dozen people (most first responders), injured hundreds and wiped out a slew of buildings. To be fair, the Boston Marathon bombings deserved focused coverage (blasts, gun-battles and an eerily silent city is newsworthy, to say the least); and, to be fair again, journalists filed reports on West. But the Texas tragedy was arguably more relevant to our daily lives. Richard Kim points out that more than 4,500 Americans are killed each year on the job. He quotes former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: "Every day in America, thirteen people go to work and never come home." That's a daily death toll of roughly four Boston bombings. Meanwhile, the ranks of inspectors for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have thinned.
Why the extraordinary week's imbalanced communication? Did everything hinge on that menacing word, "terrorism?" Texas was an accident, so favor Boston despite the odds: We're far more likely to land in an ambulance from a work-place injury than a militant's explosive. Maybe it's time we mourn the loss of the by-gone labor beat, a fossil from the era when most coveted the union-friendly "liberal" label and veteran newshounds sniffed out worker stories. Republican youths hoisted their 1956 campaign sign: "Young Republicans Salute Labor ... Attend Your Union Meetings!" The year's GOP platform called for federal job assistance; assurance of equal pay for equal work; the elimination of discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex; extended federal minimum wage protection; and the protection of collective bargaining.
Great times, to be sure, but we've since "advanced" into a service economy. We don't say "worker" anymore and unions are so '50s and '60s.
Then there's intended and interpreted communication, with an ultimate message to would-be terrorists: Your memo is rarely read. You've convinced yourselves that the impious Western World is decadent, so you deliver a pseudo-spiritual directive via violence for an international audience. The local municipality and its residents are incidentals -- fodder, at best, in your holy war. But look at those pugnacious Bostonians (I can say that; I lived there for seven years). They took the bombs personally (no kidding) and they failed to fawn before your supposed spiritual superiority. They're feeling proud. They're invoking "Boston Strong" and "Our Wicked City" (meaning: "Our Great City") and "Our BLEEPING City" (thank you, David Ortiz). They're brushing up on that raspy accent - which, incidentally, is an entirely different way of speaking: Bostonians pronounce "r" like everyone else but switch it to its rightful spot. "Law enforcement" is "law'r enfahcement" and "area" is "are-er." Bostonians know that the best pedagogical technique for language instruction is spoon-feeding marbles to their two-year-olds and training them to holler "Mom" (MWOM!) while practicing their own brand of defensive driving (a good defense is a good offence).
Change tactics, would-be terrorists. Read Saul Alinsky -- and spare us your lectures. I'm no fan of our self-indulgent culture either, but you lose me when you intentionally kill innocent people.
And there's mixed communication -- or, perhaps, disingenuous gotcha-communication: Communication in bad faith. How else do we gauge a supposedly law-and-order party that blocks a vote on measures endorsed by our police commissioners? It's a party invoking the "American people" while yielding to pressures of a minority within the National Rifle Association (most NRA members support background checks on gun purchases, as did NRA leaders years ago). And Republican gurus advocate small government but demand a veritable Big Brother when they blame the Obama Administration for failing to foresee the bombings. True, Russians told the FBI about one alleged bomber, but they were worried about attacks in their own country, not the U.S. -- and Moscow's regime has transformed Chechnya into a Hobbesian nightmare, so please excuse our agents if they doubted Russian sincerity. Maybe they would have nabbed the alleged culprits if they possessed "the machine" ala CBS's Person of Interest -- but that's fiction. Real computers are not omnipresent, thank God.
Finally, there's baseless and unfiltered communication wrapped in speculation and presumption. Behold call-in talk radio, even on sober NPR. Suburbanites paused while cutting their onions, appointed themselves foreign policy specialists, and phoned in their analysis a day after the tragedies: America should get out of Chechnya. A little fact the show's host neglected: The U.S. isn't involved in Chechnya. Misinformation metastasizes through our information outlets.
There's so much talk over so many venues; there's so little communication. It's a din of feed-back loops, of self-fulfilling logic, of television cameras reeling before an important story but barely glimpsing the more relevant story, of a majority's reasonable proposal buried beneath NRA threats and taunts, of a political party deaf to its own heritage.
Perhaps it's time we re-establish communication links with our ancient sages, who warn us: "Do you see someone who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Proverbs 29:20), and advise us to be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). Maybe we'll communicate more if we talk less.