I interrupt my blogging silence to comment on five small matters pertaining to Boston, and specifically the arguments made here:
1. "For the area around Watertown, the advisory is primarily for the purposes of public safety. There is apparently a dangerous suspect in the area who had hours earlier engaged in a massive shootout with police that included the use of pipe bombs, and there are reports of possible explosive devices at various places in the neighborhood."
Here's the detail that seems to be overlooked: this guy, assuming he's the guy, was both well-armed and had explosives, and had several days in which he could have used either or both because no one knew who he was. He didn't become further violent until he encountered the police. I'm not blaming the police for being cautious, but this guy had already missed his chance to maximize his damage, and that led me to suspect it wasn't his primary goal.
2. "On the propriety side, I’ve seen many people, mostly on the right, compare the “Shelter in Place” advisory to Martial Law, but that analogy only works if you forget that it’s called an advisory and not an order, and if residents who decided not to stay home ended up getting arrested or otherwise detained by the police."
The analytic distinction between advisory and order, while valid, is wiped out by the circumstances and the people giving the advisory. If you've been a teacher (or professor), or ever dealt with a small child, or, for that matter, a pet who responds to commands, you should be intimately familiar with the fact that you can advise things you have neither the power nor the ability to enforce, but suggest them in such a way that they appear to have all that power and force behind them. An advisory, given by one who has authority, can easily be made to sound like an order without being an order. What's more, people in authority know this, and work to finesse the distinction if it will serve their interests. I mean, if the people who worked at Dunkin Donuts could stay open, there was literally no reason everyone else shouldn't have felt comfortable going about their day.
3. There was absolutely no reason for the lockdown; many large cities have undergone significant terrorist attacks without shutting down. Also: the lockdown accomplished nothing, since the suspect was found by a regular guy after he left his house, and not by any of those policemen going door-to-door. What the lockdown did succeed in doing was poisoning the well of public spirit by making people think that criminal (there's absolutely no reason at the moment to think of it as terroristic) behavior warrants a massive reaction by the state, especially when (details pending) the flight and lockdown seems to have been inspired by a gunfight with the police in which they somehow managed to lose one of the two people they were looking for. That is, their inability to do their job becomes a license to grant them more powers.
4. Twitter was filled last night with Tocqueville-predicted American self-congratulation* that this guy was taken alive and would be read his Miranda rights, which, whoops. But at least this is an exception to the general rule, and not something the Administration usually condones, which also whoops. There should be room to say that threats are real and must be taken seriously, but that in higher-stakes situations it is important to keep the rule of law and protection of constitutional rights and liberties; both Republicans and Democrats seem equally unable to manage this.
5. The amount of action legitimated on the idea that 'no one knows' what the situation happens to be is truly staggering.
*I have come to recognize this as Tocqueville's central insight: there is no situation in which Americans are not able to find something to praise in their own conduct. People run to help after the bomb blasts? Sure. Doctors work to save lives? Sure. Everyone keeps calm about it? Sure. Bostonians voluntarily stay home to let the police do their thing? Why not. Everyone watches it obsessively on tv? We're a united country, you know. Miranda rights? Absolutely. Etc etc. Even if some of the things we take pride in are not objectively sources of pride; even if we contradict ourselves from earlier. No matter.