Thursday, March 28, 2024

Bridge Derangement Syndrome

 On Wednesday, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore was hit by a cargo ship and collapsed. The tragedy closed the port of Baltimore indefinitely and brought out the usual suspects to explain why, through six degrees of separation, the bridge tragedy was linked to their favorite talking points.

The facts of the story as we currently know them are that container ship Dali was leaving port at about 1:24 am on the morning of March 27. The ship had a “complete blackout” that caused it to lose both electrical power and propulsion. The cause of the power loss is currently not known, but backup generators restored electrical power quickly while engine power was not restored. The ship reportedly had “routine engine maintenance” while in Baltimore.

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


When a large vehicle like a ship loses engine power, it still has inertia. A car that loses engine power will coast to a stop fairly quickly but a container ship weighing 100,000 tons takes a lot longer to stop due to its large mass and the minimal friction of the water on the hull. As you may remember from physics, force equals mass times acceleration, which means that the ship would hit a lot of force, even at its slow speed of 8 knots (about 9 mph or 15 kph). Losing power in the confined waters of Baltimore Harbor was a worst-case scenario.

Steering would have been interrupted when the ship lost power. The Dali, which was not using tug boats but did have a harbor pilot on board, would have become at least temporarily uncontrollable when it lost power. The track of the ship shows a slight altering of course before the ship hit a bridge abutment supporting a span of the bridge, but this is likely due to currents and the possibility that the rudder may not have been straight when it lost power.

The ship made a Mayday call when it lost power in the narrow channel. This enabled police to stop most traffic, but there were less than two minutes in which to react. The only fatalities seem to be six workers who were repairing potholes and could not be warned in time. As I write this, two bodies have been recovered and the remaining four are presumed dead. Two other men working on the bridge were rescued shortly after the collision.

Almost immediately, the conspiracy grist mill geared up. One of the first conspiracies I heard was that the Dali had a Ukrainian captain. It was implied rather than stated that the captain might have steered the ship into the bridge for some unknown reason.

Multiple outlets quickly debunked this claim. In reality, the captain and the entire crew at the time of the accident were Indian. (The ship itself is Sri Lankan and flagged in Singapore.) Per the AP, a Ukrainian man was listed as captain of the Dali for five months in 2016 on a jobs website.

Logically, it wouldn’t make sense for a Ukrainian captain to ram his ship into a bridge anyway. Ukrainians would probably want to improve relations with the US, not cause an economic catastrophe. Further, an American harbor pilot was on board and would have been controlling the ship at the time.

Another Dali conspiracy theory involves the Netflix movie, “Leave the World Behind,” which was produced in 2023 by Barack and Michelle Obama. In the movie, a ship loses control and crashes into land. Some internet users have questioned whether this was an example of “predictive programming,” as Fox News noted.

I had never heard of this movie, but you can watch the scene on YouTube. The problem with the movie comparisons is that the ship in the movie is an oil tanker, not a container ship and it runs aground on a beach due to a cyber attack rather than hitting a bridge. Other than being completely different, it’s eerily similar.

It isn’t unheard of to find parallels in fiction for real events. I can name two books that I read before September 11 that talked about using airliners as terrorist weapons (Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor and Dale Brown’s Storming Heaven, both from 1994). An 1898 novel was more predictive of the Titanic sinking than the movie was of the Dali disaster.

And speaking of cyber attacks, a number of attention seekers have claimed that the accident was due to a cyber attack or some other sort of sabotage. The investigation is ongoing, but so far there is no evidence of any foul play.

That statement includes claims that there was an explosion on the ship before it hit the bridge. Video from a different angle shows that the smoke came from the ship’s smokestack rather than an explosion. It was probably a result of trying to restart the engines.

Left unexplained in the conspiracy theories is why nefarious bridge attackers would make a movie about their plot. And why make a Mayday call or hit the bridge at 1 am rather than rush hour if you want to inflict maximum damage?

Ships crashing into bridges is not unheard of. In fact, a ship crashed into the same Baltimore bridge in 1980. That ship was smaller and did not do as much damage, but there is a long list of ship-bridge collisions in the US alone. The Dali was involved in a previous accident in Antwerp in 2016 when it hit a stone pier. That accident was ruled to be the fault of the pilot.

A more out-there conspiracy theory is that the accident was caused by DEI. It isn’t clear how diversity, equity, and inclusion can be blamed for the accident [insert your six-degrees-of-separation explanation here] when the crew of the ship was Indian and unaffected by American DEI programs. The only conceivable link to DEI would be if the American harbor pilot was an unqualified diversity hire, but there is no evidence of this.

The DEI attacks seem to be an attempt to link Baltimore’s mayor to the accident, but he had nothing to do with the crash. I haven’t seen anyone blame Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

President Biden did say that the federal government should fund replacing the bridge. This is both reasonable and constitutional since the bridge was part of the interstate highway system and interstate commerce is the domain of the federal government.

Finally, some are making much of the fact that the six people apparently killed in the accident were immigrants, although I haven’t heard anyone blame the victims. It is true that the bridge victims were all immigrants from Latin America. At least one, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval of Honduras, came to the US 17 years ago.

The fact that these men were all immigrants underscores the fact that immigrants, legal or illegal, often do jobs that Americans won’t do. Filling potholes at 1 am on a cold morning is a good example. This underscores the fact that we need reform to fix our broken immigration system.

One thing that isn’t a conspiracy is the economic impact of the bridge collapse. A few years ago, I took a picture of Baltimore as I flew over. You can see from the photo that the bridge is the only route across the harbor and that the collapse would completely block the channel. It may take years to replace the bridge, creating hellish commutes for many Marylanders.

May be an image of horizon
Baltimore by David Thornton

Thanks for reading The Racket News ™! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

The port of Baltimore will be closed until a channel can be cleared for shipping. That won’t be a quick or easy task, but it might be quicker than you think. Stephen Flynn, a professor of political science and civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, told USA Today that enough debris might be cleared to begin incrementally opening the channel to ships within a few weeks.

Baltimore ranks first for imports of cars and trucks per CNN but is also a major hub for coal and sugar. The good news is that experts say that damage to the US economy is likely to be minimal since there are many other ports to which ship traffic can be shifted. Baltimore, cut off from its shipping income, will bear the brunt of the economic impact.

The Dali destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is almost certainly a tragic accident. We won’t know the exact cause for a while, but we can be thankful that it wasn’t worse with a higher loss of life and a greater economic impact.

From the Racket News

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Terror in Moscow exposes Putin's weakness

 Over the weekend, Moscow was the subject of a vicious terror attack. I’ve been very critical of the Russian government since, well, my whole life, as well as the more recent response of many of the Russian people who have bought into the Putinist line that justifies the war on Ukraine, but my criticism does not extend to celebrating the horrific slaughter noncombatants in a civilian location. Whatever my differences are with Russia, I condemn the massacre at Crocus City Hall.

The attack came last Friday, March 22, at about 8:00 pm local time. At least four terrorists were involved and used a combination of guns, bladed weapons, and incendiary devices to kill at least 137 people and injure many more. Videos posted online, some apparently by the attackers, show the vicious and callous nature of the attack. I’m not going to link to them.

Emergency services responding to the attack. By, CC BY 4.0,

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


At least four people have been arrested in connection with the attack although others are presumed to be involved as well. Despite early and continuing unsupported claims by the Russian government (and some of their sympathizers elsewhere) that Ukraine was behind the attack, the men in custody are reportedly from Tajikistan. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tajikistan is one of those countries that is almost impossible to pick out on a map, at least for most Westerners, myself included. The landlocked Central Asian country is to the west of China and was formerly a part of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The CIA World Factbook notes that Tajikistan is 98 percent Muslim. There is a history of religious conflict, including ISIS activity.

There is also a history of Islamic terror attacks against Russia. Off the top of my head, there was the nightmarish hostage-taking at a school in Beslan in 2004, the bombing of Russian airline Metrojet’s Flight 9268 in 2015, and another attack on a Moscow theater in 2002. That crisis left 120 hostages dead as security forces stormed the building. In reality, there have been a number of other attacks including subway and apartment bombings, many of which might not have received much coverage in the West.

Many of the motives for Islamic terror aimed at Moscow stem from the Russian wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and the more recent Russian intervention in Syria. Chechen terrorists were behind the Beslan massacre and the 2002 theater attack while the Islamic State was responsible for the Metrojet bombing and the recent Crocus massacre.

There is some irony in the fact that Russia is now the target of Islamic terrorists after the Soviet Union provided funding and training for terror groups such as the PLO during the Cold War. When the Pandora’s box of extremism is opened, it can be difficult to control.

Similar to how the September 11 attacks in the US and the October 7 attacks in Israel resulted from breakdowns in intelligence and security, the Russian government does not appear to have handled the Crocus attack well. The US warned Russia of intelligence chatter about a potential attack earlier this month and put out a Security Alert for US citizens on March 7, although that alert only advised against attending “large gatherings over the next 48 hours.”

Vladimir Putin rejected the American warnings with insults, saying, “I would also like to recall the recent provocative statements by a number of official Western structures regarding potential terrorist attacks in Russia.”

“All these actions resemble outright blackmail and the intention to intimidate and destabilize our society,” Putin continued.

Perhaps related to the American warning, Reuters reported on March 7 that Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the KGB, had foiled an Islamic State cell’s attack on a synagogue in Moscow. This raid makes Putin’s public disregard of the American warning all the more puzzling.

It gets worse.

The Washington Post quoted several Russians who said that security was lax at concert venues such as Crocus, even after the 2002 theater attack. After the Crocus attack started, special response units reportedly took more than an hour to arrive at the scene. The terrorists seem to have carried out the attack unmolested and left the scene before security forces could respond.

If these reports are accurate - and they seem to be supported by video - it is mindboggling. It is unimaginable that terrorists could launch a prolonged attack on an urban target in a Western country and that police would not respond quickly enough to engage them at the scene.

The response may have been slow, but Russian security forces did finally get their men. Or at least they got some men who confessed to the attack under torture. It is somewhat curious that these suspects were taken alive since Islamic terrorists often conduct suicide attacks.

When Putin addressed the nation on Saturday, it was to blame Ukraine for the attack and allege that the attackers were trying to escape to Ukraine. This seems unlikely since that would mean that the terrorists would be moving toward a heavily militarized border.

Ukraine has launched attacks on Russian soil, but these differ from the Crocus attack in several key ways. First, these attacks are normally carried out by drones or sabotage, and second, they typically focus on military or economic targets. More typical is a Ukrainian drone attack that occurred on Monday against Russian refineries in Samara, but there was at least one large-scale drone and missile attack on the Russian city of Belgorod that reportedly killed civilians (although it isn’t clear if they were targeted or hit by falling missiles shot down by Russian air defenses). Sending gunmen to attack a crowded theater is not Ukraine’s modus operandi… but it is for the Islamic State.

On Monday, Putin finally admitted the truth, that “radical Islamists” had carried out the attack, but the Associated Press noted that he still stuck to the story that they were fleeing to Ukraine, a story for which he has not provided evidence. Russian-controlled state media is sticking with the claim that Ukraine is complicit, undoubtedly hoping to stoke nationalist fervor for the war.

Putin may attempt to use the attack to unite Russia behind his war on Ukraine, but the reality is that the attack lays bare the hollowness of the Russian security state. It may be that Russian security forces were more focused on crushing dissent and murdering Alexei Navalny than preventing terrorist attacks, but even so, Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his Wagner Group rebels made it to the outskirts of Moscow last June.

In both cases, Putin was slow to respond, not appearing for hours to reassure his countrymen.

“In difficult moments, Putin always disappears,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center

Vladimir Putin’s focus is on Ukraine and maintaining power rather than protecting his own people and homeland. Then again, if Putin cared about his people he wouldn’t be sending hundreds of thousands of them to die or be maimed in Ukraine.

I condemn the Crocus massacre and mourn the dead with the Russian people, but I stand by my belief that Russia needs to stop its own campaign of terror against civilian targets in Ukraine. If it’s wrong to walk into a crowded theater and open fire then how much more wrong is it to invade a neighbor and slaughter (and kidnap) its population?

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


TRUMP ON TRIAL: The trial date has been set in the Trump hush money case brought by Alvin Bragg in New York. The trial will begin on April 15.

The hush money case is the weakest of the cases against Trump. As I discussed in April 2023, there is no question that Trump cooked his books to cover up his payments to Stormy Daniels, but there are serious legal questions about whether these actions broke the law.

from the Racket News