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## January 31, 2007

Boston menaced by cartoon promo; traffic grinds to a halt
Posted by Teresa at 05:20 PM *

Major roads and highways around Boston, and everything along the Charles River, were shut down today after nine “suspicious devices” were spotted in various locations.

The Turner Network has now confirmed that the devices, which look mysterious and have blinky lights on them, were part of a promotion for the TV cartoon show Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

One detail which none of the print media are reporting, but which Kate Salter picked up from listening to WBZ 1030, is that apparently the promotional gadgets were thought to be Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). An odd detail that Reuters is reporting is that the Coast Guard has shut or closed the Charles River. They’re also saying that the Charles feeds from the Atlantic into the city. I don’t believe a word of it. I’ll bet they’ve just shut down traffic on the river, and that the water is flowing in its usual direction.

Newsbreak: Avram Grumer just wandered in and told me that the blinkylight devices are Mooninites, a sarcastic species of lunar aliens who look like something out of the old Space Invaders game. Avram contributes a link to a close-up photo of one of the threatening devices and a photo of one of them in operation.

WBZ 1030 also has a photo of one of the devices in the wild.

They consisted of magnetic signs with blinking lights in the shape of a cartoon character.

And everyone knows that bombs have blinking lights on ‘em. Every single movie bomb you’ve ever seen has a blinking light.

Triumph for Homeland Security, guys.

Update: the story gets dumber

This just in, from the Guardian:

Turner Broadcasting, parent company of Cartoon Network, said the devices, which consisted of magnetic, blinking lights, were part of a promotion for the TV show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”

“The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger,” Turner said in a statement. It said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

“We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger,” the company said.

Police said only that they were investigating where the device came from. The Department of Homeland Security said there are no credible reports of other devices being found elsewhere in the country.

Implications:

1. The devices have been up for weeks in ten other cities, and no one’s panicked.

2. The devices have been up for weeks in ten other cities, and the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t know about it.

Furthermore:

Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing says Josh Glenn says that despite what you may have heard, Make was not involved.

And one last update:

The AP reports that the Governor of Massachusetts, the Mayor of Boston, and a Homeland Security Department spokesman are busily scowling and harrumphing, calling the incident a deliberate hoax (I don’t see it), denying that there was anything funny about it, denying that they overreacted, and congratulating each other and the local authorities on their fast and efficient non-overreaction time in responding to this grave threat. AP also notes that at least one of the devices depicts a cartoon character giving the finger.

Comments on Boston menaced by cartoon promo; traffic grinds to a halt:

They consisted of magnetic signs with blinking lights in the shape of a cartoon character.

And everyone knows that bombs have blinking lights on 'em. Every single movie bomb you've ever seen has a blinking light.

Triumph for Homeland Security, guys. Making America safe from blinky-lights

#2 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 05:44 PM:

Wait, wait, wait. Are you sure this isn't Captain D's Aqua Agents? They have teens roaming around underwater righting wrongs.

If you're going to put up blinky promotional lights, they could at least plug Morel Orel.

#4 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 05:45 PM:

I have no sympathy... the media did nothing to avert the Nightwatch mindset and promote old-fashioned (try Constitutional and Declaration of Independence--stuff like liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of religion, habeas corpus, prevention of searches and seizures without warrants, freedom of speech, etc.) and now the same schnooks who promoted the fascist regime destroying the country and other parts of the world, pulls this stupid trick/blunder that gets Nightwatch negative attention....

I just listened to some of the news conference from earlier today. It was a parade of officials doing their best to congratulate themselves for a massive overreaction. It appears that they alerted everbody short of the Mounties, the Texas Rangers, and the Singapore Harbor Police because somebody called in a light with blinking boxes, that may have been there for weeks (that's not clear yet).

Now they want someone to blame, and if possible punish, for the crime of embarrasing them. I'm sorry, but it is not Turner's fault that so many people cannot find their posterior quarters with both hands and a bird dog.

Err ... a box with blinking lights, rather. (A light with blinking boxes --- hmmm, interesting.)

So, they didn't consider it a tip-off that the devices were in the shape of cartoon characters?

#8 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:12 PM:

Maybe I shouldn't be laughing, but I'm seriously about to MC Pee in my Pants. (Sorry, Aqua Teen in-joke there...)

I am a huge fan of most of Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programming, Aqua Teen Hunger Force in particular. The Mooninites are my absolute favorite part of the show.

On the one hand, I want to smack the Cartoon Network marketing genius responsible for this upside the head and ask "What were you *thinking*?!?" But then, I also want to smack every single official who shut the entire city of Boston down because of this upside the head, and ask them the same thing.

I feel *so* much safer now. Not.

#9 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:15 PM:

CNN reports: "In addition, the Pentagon said U.S. Northern Command was monitoring the situation from its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but said none of its units were sent to assist."

#10 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:19 PM:

Theresa, they may have figured (or retrospectively decided, in an attmpt to justify their utter lack of clue)that making the devices in the shape of cartoon characters was all part of the Cunning Plan of the diabolical freedom-hating terrorists, who sought to outsmart the forces of good by using perverted unnatural container shapes instead of the God Fearin' American Box-Shaped Box.

#11 ::: Mary R ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Having just come from crossing the Charles, I would like to point out the inanity of "closing" a frozen river. And the Charles most assuredly flows from the western suburbs of Boston to the Atlantic.

Also, the MBTA has searched the bags of nearly 2500 passengers, resulting in 27 false alarms and no explosives discovered. However, officials said that they had been effective at thwarting terrorists. Link

Boston overloaded on equipment for the Democratic Convention in 2004 and have been hunting for ways to use it, with at least one fatality so far.

#12 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:24 PM:

I quite enjoyed a friend of mine's response to the whole madness:

http://community.livejournal.com/b0st0n/4867619.html

Indeed, "strange devices" everywhere!

#14 ::: Comesleep ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:31 PM:

"Can you see this? I'm doing it as hard as I can!"

What a ridiculous situation. Doubtless the creators of ATF are laughing and laughing, though--what publicity!
(Wanna bet it makes it into a future episode? I mean, given the episode on censorship and The J-Man...
"Can't say Jesus on network television, Meatwad!")

#15 ::: Michael Brian Bentley ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:35 PM:

Any sufficiently nonsequitor advanced technology shall look like a timer/detonator, and these come with a bonus: they're designed to attract the attention of children! Expect many, many false positives and indignant government officials who can't believe anyone would do that sort of thing in this day and age in America.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:38 PM:

via BOING BOING:

MAKE magazine is getting some publicity out of this. Their site references plans for making LED "throwies".

#17 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:38 PM:

I am not making up this actual headline from the myFOX website:

Network Claims Responsibility for Suspicious Devices

Exactly the phrasing they would use to say "Hamas claims responsibility for rocket attacks". And note that the devices are still described as "suspicious" even though they now know exactly what they are and that they never, at any time, posed any danger. I bet they wouldn't take this tone if it had been a Murdoch-owned company.

Further down in the article:

The device was detonated and determined to be harmless, but as a precaution the station and the interstate shut down temporarily.

Funny enough that they actually blew up one of these things before finding out what they were (note: "detonated" is a bit misleading, since the boxes didn't contain any explosives the authorities would have had to provide them), but it's kind of disturbing that when they find something *completely harmless* they "as a precaution" shut down the interstate. I think a squirrel may have been sighted near my house, should we shut down the interstate there too? Some squirrels carry rabies, making them more dangerous than the Mooninite boxes.

On the plus side, I can't *wait* to see what Jon Stewart is going to have to say about this. Let alone the Onion. This is beyond comedy gold.

#18 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:40 PM:

IEDs, LEDs, what's the difference?

#19 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:44 PM:

what moron called the police on this?
Flog them.

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:44 PM:

[Napolean Dynamite]
Idiots!
[/Napolean Dynamite]

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Um.

You'all realize that these things have just become collectors' items, right?

Bets on how long it takes for one of them to get on eBay?

#22 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:46 PM:

This reminds me of the equally moronic "Guy drops ipod into airplane toilet, flight attendant declares it a bomb, plane diverts, FBI searches plane, and finally tells guy 'don't do it again'".

It was a fricken ipod, you morons.

Well, if Bush wanted to turn this country into a bunch of panic-stricken chicken littles who scream at a drop of rain and call the police, he has succeeded.

#23 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 06:49 PM:

And Boskone is in two weeks. Don't do, say, or display anything suspicious.

Good thing it happened after Arisia.

#24 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:00 PM:

Channel 7 wins the award for Newscrawl of the Decade:

"Suspicious device found at comic book store in Allston".

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:01 PM:

Best comment (found on Slashdot):

"Isn't it funny that it only took hours to blow up a LiteBrite but it took weeks to respond to a devastating hurricane?"

I'm still trying to figure out if I should be laughing at the absurdity or crying at the incompetance.

#27 ::: Connie H ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:19 PM:

OK, maybe it'd be over-reacting if it was one device (and say, planted by MIT students) leading to major transportation shutdowns, but when there's more and more reports coming in of these unexplained devices attached to major bridges and transportation points around a city, what call do you make? Particularly because in very recent memory there's been major terror attacks on London, Madrid and Tokyo transport?

Maybe if I'd been personally inconvenienced on my travels in the Boston area today I wouldn't be so inclined to say that the level of reaction seems about right to me.

#28 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:19 PM:

*sigh*

Yup. That's my city.

#29 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:40 PM:

Level of reaction?

Downtown Boston was shut down and the networks were broadcasting panic because some Jack Bauer wannabe in the statehouse was scared by blinking lights.

#30 ::: J. Dunn ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:49 PM:

Ok, so now has security theater gone to absurd enough lengths that we can actually step back and have a real national conversation about what are and aren't sane and effective ways to fight terrorism?

*crickets chirp*

Sadly, probably not. But Christ, if all it takes is some strategically-placed cheap LEDs to throw a major American city into chaos for half a day, we've really lowered the bar. All you have to do is trigger the insane security response, and the authorities will take care of the rest for you.

#31 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 07:59 PM:

What disturbs me listening to the media coverage is that the media seems right in step with our Fearful Leaders. They've followed DeVal Patrick's lead in calling this a "hoax." I think they've forgotten that a hoax requires deception. Given that no one claimed they were bombs, and that these LED signs did not do bomb like things, I think this fails the "intend to deceive" test.

The news stories keeps refering the signs as "suspicious devices" even though we know exactly what they are. The descriptions sounded far more menacing than they turn out to be when you look at the picture. The politicians and police (at least as of a couple hours ago) steadfastly refuse to admit that Turner had said anything about these LED signs.

I guess it's all too human, but it's sad to see our leaders lead in the same way that chain letters get propagated.

(Incidentally, I'm not writing out of spite at being inconvenienced. I work outside of 495, so I wasn't in Boston for any of this.)

#32 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:03 PM:

#27: Sorry, but they blew up a Lite-Brite. Look at that picture and tell me anyone in their right mind would consider that a bomb.

And if someone calls in a bomb, and the cop shows up and sees that it is a lite-brite, he should immediately grow some stones and call it what it is, i.e. NOT A BOMB, and call off the dogs. This is like the ipod-in-the-toilet fiasco: once the bureaucratic machine is set in motion Cover-Your-Ass overrides common-fing-sense.

I feel like I'm slowly turning into a beetle.

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:09 PM:

There's a least one of these up on eBay already.

#34 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 08:31 PM:

There's been an arrest. What are they going to charge this person with? "Planting something an idiot might think is a bomb?" Also, the mayor of Boston wants to sue Turner Broadcasting. (The placement of the "suspicious devices" has now been downgraded from a "hoax" to a "marketing ploy".)

(Note to Fox: It's "defuse", not "diffuse". And you can't defuse something that doesn't have a fuse.)

#35 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:00 PM:

I'm on a business trip and so all I heard was the scary reports until I got back to my hotel. I was thinking about how Boston still has paranoia and embarassment being the place several of the 9/11 planes took off from, and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Then I saw the pictures.

#36 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:08 PM:

What keeps me wondering is that factlet from Turner that these devices had already been up for a couple of weeks in a number of different cities. Now maybe the marketing company got to Boston last, but I can't help but think that thousands of people passed by or under these signs and immediately understood what they were, and didn't hit 911 reflexively. This means that it took someone unusually clueless and panicky to get this started.

Along, of course, with the usual panic and cluelessness from those who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (not to speak of the cost of delays and traffic) to protect us from cartoon characters.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:09 PM:

This is just astonishing. The terrorists (Bush et al) really have won.

#38 ::: Darkrose ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:10 PM:

he Pentagon said U.S. Northern Command was monitoring the situation from its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado,

I bet the SGC was worried about replicators. Think maybe they called Rodney in from Atlantis?

#39 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:20 PM:

The Pentagon said U.S. Northern Command was monitoring the situation from its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado

All that means is that they get cable at Peterson AFB and sat around like the rest of us laughing their heads off at the fools in Boston.

#40 ::: Victor S ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:22 PM:

Oh, what the heck. Part of the problem is that Boston thinks it's a major city, and therefore people believe it _ought_ to be a big ol' target, 'cause they're So Important. The fact that the town ranks with Milwaukee or Louisville as a city is flatly denied by the populace. (Go, populace!) Combine that with a slow news day, and you get hysteria. It's "Waiting for the Barbarians".

#41 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:26 PM:

But wouldn't that be the most effective way to plant a bomb?

"It's just a toy, silly..."

:BOOM:

#42 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:26 PM:

I was at the theater this weekend and was startled to see a mysterious woman with an M-16 for a leg! In the theater! I called the national Guard and they surrounded the theater, shutting down traffic for miles around. Sure, it turned out just to be a movie standee, but, it could have been a terrorist! With a machine gun leg.

#43 ::: MichaelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:42 PM:

I would think that the first thing a terrorist planting a bomb would want to do is to HIDE the thing! You don't want it to be found, you want it to stay in place until it goes BOOM.

#44 ::: roach ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 09:45 PM:

From an AP article about the arrest they've made: "Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on local law enforcement and counter-terrorism resources and there's absolutely no place for them in a post-9/11 world," Knocke said.

Dang it...now my brain hurts.

#45 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:03 PM:

Now they've arrested an Arlington Man for putting these things up as of 8:45 pm tonight.

#46 ::: Jose Marquez ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:07 PM:

#40: How are you defining major city? (Note: not an attack; it seems to me that Milwaukee and Louisville *are* major cities)

Welllll, I love that dirty waaaater....

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:12 PM:

Makes me want to make a bunch of funny boxes with seven red cylinders, an alarm clock, and a little electronic voice that says "I'm not a bomb. Of course I'm not a bomb, don't be ridiculous! How obvious would that be? Silly. I'm not a bomb."

And of course, they wouldn't be. That'd throw 'em.

Mayor Menino said the hoax cost the state and cities about $750,000. He wants Turner Broadcasting to pay for it all. Hoax? What hoax? They weren't intended for anyone at all to think in their wildest dreams that they were bombs. What cost the state and cities$750,000 was Mayor Menino's personal stupidity. He should pay it himself out of his own pocket.

And the voters should remember this next election day, and vote in someone bright enough to tie his shoes on his own.

#49 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:22 PM:

I think the key quote from the AP article linked in #44 is:
"I saw the bomb squad guys carrying a paper bag with their bare hands," Higgins said. "I knew it couldn't be too serious."

This is security theater.

I'm more interested in that the police apparently received four phone calls around 1pm reporting the LED signs on the bridges which span the Charles River. It's hard to believe that four people could see those signs and fail to recognize what they are. If we add that those four people all called around the same time, and it's just not credible.

If the police are telling the truth here (and surely the police would never, ever lie), the guy who put up the LED signs didn't perpetrate a hoax. Turner didn't perpetrate a hoax. The four people who coordinated their prank phone calls did.

#50 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:31 PM:

By now many of you know we here in Boston have survived a major terrorist incident. Highways were shut down. Bridges closed. River traffic halted. But we persevered. The Boston police called out the bomb squad. Homeland Security is investigating. Some kid with a website is being questioned. The Powers That Be are on tv. Yes, my friends, I am now safe from...a cartoon light box.

While everyone involved is patting themselves on the back, I can't believe how utterly stupid this is, they are and things continue to be. Basically, Turner Broadcasting had this guerilla advertising going for Adult Swim. They hung light boxes of a cartoon character around the city (several cities, actually) and at night they light up. They look like lite-brite toys.

This is hysteria as security. The claim is that because circuit boards, visible batteries and wires were involved, they had to be cautious. As in blow the suckers up cautious. As in probably thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds wasted cautious. For what? To show they are serious about security? ARE THEY SERIOUS? These things apparently were visibly hanging around for weeks until some alarmist, who buys into our public transportation Big Brother campaign, reported one to the police. Next thing we know, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been made safe from cartoons.

And then the Einsteins got on the news. "We had to be careful. It could have been worse." Really? Like tiny, tiny nuclear weapons hidden in the light bulbs? Terrorists are so stupid they can't manage to smuggle a luggage nuke out of Ukraine where they're apparently lying on the sidewalks over there and I'm supposed to be worried about BATTERIES AND WIRES? And excuse me, if it were a bomb containing, oh, nuclear or biological materials, did it occur to anyone that BLOWING IT UP was not the smartest thing to do? And then, of course, we have the on the street interviews from the clueless "I'm glad it was a false alarm, but it makes me feel safe." Yeah? Your front line of defense against terrorism can't tell the difference between an innocous light box and a block of pasticine and you feel SAFE?

I live here. I despair.

#51 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:34 PM:

"We're not going to let this go without looking at the further roots of how this happened to cause the panic in this city," Coakley said at a news conference Wednesday night.

I will be so impressed if they realize the root cause is that those in power overreacted. (e.g., they determined there was no threat, then shut down the transportation infrastructure anyways.) However, I'm not expecting to be impressed.

Sadly, this shows that governments, regardless of political affliation, tend to act alike when caught in an error. Rather than admitting to error, they're behaving as if they can alter reality through willful behavior. They've arrested some poor guy not because he's actually guilty of anything but because they need to behave as if there had been an actual hoax (or terrorist incident).

#52 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:45 PM:

Xopher 47: Homeland Security would just take a leaf from John Varley and hire a vacationing bomb expert to persuade the funny box to explode after all.

#53 ::: Victor S ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:46 PM:

Jose @46 -- I went with population, per this reference.
Then I picked on a larger and a smaller city.

My assertion is that Bostonians think the list of important cities in the US goes something like:
1. New York
2. (tie) Los Angeles
2. (tie) Boston
4. Chicago
5. Maybe San Francisco, I Guess
6. Other places not important enough to name

And that exacerbates other problems.

But not one of those menacing little blinking devices exploded. So, you now, this calls for another "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Say, do ya think the terrorists have figured out if they head fake the administration that they can tie us up in knots for weeks (elevated threat level my arse) and cost us millions of dollars with just a cell phone call and a $5 kit from Radio Shack? And if they have free nights and weekends it won't even cost them that much. Nah, they don't get Channel 2. #55 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 10:50 PM: Yahoo report says man arrested, article listed under suspicious device. The list of authorities who need to be flogged for this assinine overreaction is getting longer every minute. A LiteBrite with four D batteries, and you arrest someone for a "bomb scare"? You fricking gutless morons. You overreacted and now you're looking for someone to blame for the fact that you acted as if the emporer new clothes were wonderful. And someone seriously needs to find out who called the police. And flog them. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert should make a public mockery of this whole bureaucratic fiasco. Is the Department of Homeland Security trying to tell me that at no time does the checklist for how to respond to a threat, that at no time does "common sense" come up as a step? Is it not on the checklist? Is it basically "Step 1: Panic" and then "step 2: cover your ass"? What if some crazy person calls in and says that terrorists are using stoplights to send morse code signals to activate sleeper cells? PANIC! SHUT OFF ALL THE STOPLIGHTS! MY GOD WE"RE UNDER ATTACK! What? No? We're not under attack? WHO THE HELL PUT THESE DAMN STOPLIGHTS WHERE THEY COULD BE MISTAKEN FOR MORSE CODE-SENDING, SLEEPER-CELL-ACTIVATING DEVICES? Doesn't anyone know these sort of hoaxes will not be tolerated? My god, someone hose the stupid off of me. #56 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:00 PM: #47: isn't that a Varley story? #57 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:01 PM: If Turner Broadcasting hadn't said they were promoting something, my first guess would have been that somebody literate enough to read Wasp decided to see whether Earthlings were as dumb as Eric Frank Russell's pseudo-Japanese. Not surprisingly, they were. One of the more depressing things about later-Campbell SF is the number of times aliens smart enough to crew starships are dumb enough to fall for every stupid trick in the book. Connie: no, it wasn't the proper reaction; as noted after you, a real bomb (as opposed to a TV one) is unlikely to be so deliberately conspicuous. Remember what Justice Holmes said about shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater? #58 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:02 PM: #7 So, they didn't consider it a tip-off that the devices were in the shape of cartoon characters? Imagine how much explosive a suicide bomber could strap on under a standard theme-park cartoon character costume. Better alert Homeland Security to the threat of Disneyland. #34 It's "defuse", not "diffuse". And you can't defuse something that doesn't have a fuse. I always get a chuckle out of that (far too common) mistake. The best way to diffuse a bomb is to let it go off. Not sure how you would diffuse a blinky-light advertisement, though. #59 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:02 PM: Oops, I missed #52. I'll go blow myself up now. #60 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:09 PM: Alas, The Daily Show and Colbert Report both tape too early in the day for there to be good coverage tonight ... but I can't WAIT for tomorrow. They're going to be all over this like mold in Carl's sheets. Apparently, Adult Swim began tonight with a multiple-screen apology replacing the usual text bumps. (I'd meant to switch over to see if they were going to do something like that, but missed it...) Needless to say, the fan forums on adultswim.com are going nuts. It's all just so, so pathetic. #61 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:10 PM: Mark DF@50: And excuse me, if it were a bomb containing, oh, nuclear or biological materials, did it occur to anyone that BLOWING IT UP was not the smartest thing to do? Just because the above really needs to be repeated. Because we live in a country where experts on these things do sh*t like, oh, combine all the potentially dangerous substances they've got on hand at an airport in one waste area, so it can become a really toxic soup. *pounds head repeatedly on desk* I am also really, really annoyed with the use of language here. This was not a hoax. Turner did not 'admit to a hoax'. And arressting the artist who put the things up is a punk move. What odds to we have on them prosecuting him to the fullest extent of the law to cover up their own asshattery? #63 ::: Jim Bales ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:25 PM: TNH writes: "They’re also saying that the Charles feeds from the Atlantic into the city ...". While the net flow is into the harbor from the city (and points upriver), the lower reaches of the Charles are tidal. (Or were, before the dams were built.) At the diurnal high tide -- assuming the dam near North Station still leaks a little (as I know it used to) -- there is flow from the Atlantic into the city. And so, like a stopped clock, this statement from Reuters may, in fact, be right twice a day. #64 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 11:36 PM: If you watch the news and see pictures of the cartoon character - or even of the "bomb"- you will notice that the character's raised middle finger has been carefully blurred out or even airbrushed away altogether. Need one comment further? Angry, I expect they'll do exactly that. I've got some additional material, most of it via a link found in Liz Marcs' LJ. Good piece there. I cherish her line, As God is my witness, I thought that LiteBrites were bombs! Boston's mayor is being a cmplt dckhd about this--and a pompous one, too. Brainiac writes about how the bloggers were all over the story in Attack of the Mooninites. Lots of great links there. Artist arrested. May be the same story mentioned earlier. Video of the Moominites being placed around city. A fantasia on the subject of Strange devices reported in Boston. Traditional internet art: I'M IN UR BRIDGES SHUTTIN DOWN YOUR CITY. SOMEONE SET US UP THE BOMB! LOL! BOSTOWNED! I'M IN UR CITY TERRORIZIN UR PEEPS. #66 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:17 AM: Well, this has been the most exciting National Gorilla Suit Day in quite a while ... #67 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:19 AM: There was a local Fox affiliate news promo after "Bones" hyping the local angle, since there were Moonites in Seattle, too. It was so very lame as to make any future Daily Show or Onion parody superfluous. #68 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:24 AM: Poor Deval Patrick. #69 ::: Erin Kissane ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:39 AM: Whaaa? I saw some of our (Portland's) Mooninites hanging out on the crosswalk signs downtown around New Year's. They're cartoon robot-alien dudes *flipping each other off*. And even if they were all blinking and electric and scary, it's still a LITE BRITE. Boston loses. Leaving now to put electrical tape over the blinking light on my electric toothbrush charger. #70 ::: Chris Carter ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:55 AM: Denny Crane! #71 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:07 AM: Supposedly they are in San Francisco too, but I haven't seen any. Anyway, the stuff I see lying around on any given day is way more exciting than a couple of blinky lite-brites. I think we should make noise about the incident, not because we were terrorised by lite-brites, but because our leaders want us to be. They are, so we better be too, according to them. The whole atmosphere they've created, the scapegoatism, is terribly irresponsible. The fact that you can get arrested because somebody misinterpreted your actions--disgusting, and not part of the country I was told I grew up in. #72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:11 AM: Keith Olbermann brought this up tonight and referred to it as a plot by the Cartoon Terror Network. Where's the Space Ghost when we need him most? #73 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:15 AM: Tomorrow's Boston Globe editorial makes me want to drive up there and kick somebody. It's only a two-hour drive. I just might do it. #74 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:19 AM: Here are links to some videos about the placing of the Moominites. http://www.boston.com/news/local/adultswim_video/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shy6pmnDSmM #75 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:21 AM: meredith #73: If you're driving "up" to Boston, that probably means I'm on your way. Could you pick me up? I'd like to kick them too. IT WAS NOT A HOAX. Jaysus. And the tone that editorial writer takes makes my soul itch. Im with Greg @55 -- I think there was a hoax but the viral marketers had little to do with it. If I read the news stories correctly, there were two events here. According to the WBZ news story that Teresa linked to upthread: The first device was found at an MBTA subway and bus station located under Interstate 93 on Wednesday morning. The device was detonated and determined to be harmless, but as a precaution the station and the interstate shut down temporarily. Then, around 1 p.m., four calls came into Boston Police reporting suspicious devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, which both span the Charles River, and the corner of Stuart and Columbus Streets and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center. OK, here is what probably happened. The first discovery happened in the morning as described. What that demonstrates that there are people in Boston who don't watch Adult Swim and overreact. that alone would make somebody look a bit stupid, but there are bomb threats like that all the time. But when word got out about what happened, I wonder if someone decided to have a little fun. Four calls, all at about the same time, reporting the "devices" at various places. Someone in law enforcement was already a bit touchy and embarrased, and these calls came in -- probably before the investigations had reconstructed the "device" and found that they had blown up a battery powered insulting gesture. At that point somebody (and I suspect we will never find out who) leapt from their chair and pulled the Big Red Switch (hey, there's always a BRS) declaring a Really Awfully Big Terrorist Gen-u-wine Emergency. And the rest, as they say, is history. I wonder if they know where those four calls came from. Could someone from Boston tell us whether those four locations called in form some kind of pattern, say near a high school or MIT? Like I said, I'm just wondering . . . #77 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:49 AM: angry at #62: Call me an incurable optimist, but my bet is that the authorities will spend a week or two harrumphing about how "serious" this incident was... then quietly drop all charges once the spotlight dims a little. At worst, the poor artist might be forced to plea to a misdemeanor. It's in the best interest of everyone -- the artist, the city government, and my fellow Bostonians, who are now the butt of jokes from New York to Outer Mongolia -- if this whole embarrassing incident is forgotten as soon as possible. If everyone plays the right cards, the laughter might subside within a week or two... but prosecuting the artist could keep the story alive for months on end. Why risk that? Expect a lot of short-term bluster and posing, followed by a swift and thorough cover-up with pardons for all. That's the American way! (Of course, if I'm wrong and this poor guy gets the book thrown at him, I'll be one of the first to write a letter of protest.) #78 ::: MWT ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:54 AM: #38 Darkrose said: "The Pentagon said U.S. Northern Command was monitoring the situation from its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado," I bet the SGC was worried about replicators. Think maybe they called Rodney in from Atlantis? What, Carter isn't good enough for you?? #79 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:20 AM: That Globe editorial made me see red. (And, also, write a letter to the editor. Whee.) And, honestly, the four locations don't really form much of a pattern that /I/ can think of, but possibly I'm not imaginative enough. I wonder if Mayor Menino has figured out yet that thousands of cars go over those bridges every day and any one of them could be a car bomb! Maybe he should sue Ford for the thousands of dollars it would cost to stop and search every one of them? #81 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:47 AM: How long before somebody sees Mickey Mouse at the French Disneyland and claimes ObL is hiding in France? #82 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:59 AM: There's a Mooninite in downtown Manhattan - it's been there for at least a month. I don't recall the exact location, but you can see it if you look north from Houston Street, somewhere between Broadway and the Bowery. #83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:32 AM: I cannot recall the title or author, but one of my airport bookshop purchases was the memoirs of a British bomb squad veteran. He describes being called to the house of a Member of Parliament, where something suspicious had arrived in the post. He came up to the front door, in his body armour and helmet, and spoke to the MP, who had evacuated the household. The item was on the table in the hall, he was told. He went in and found nothing larger than a postcard on the table. Baffled, he went back out and queried. It turned out that the suspicious item in the post was the postcard, which bore all the hallmarks of a suspicious package: - it was stained with grease - it had too much postage affixed - it was from an unfamiliar person He wrote that he had great difficulty exercising restraint during the remainder of the conversation. <thinks> If I were planning a bombing campaign in Boston, I now know exactly how to go about it. ... Set up a shell company. Come up with a spurious but plausible product that might be advertised on small hoardings (not large drive-by ones, but posters at T-stops and outside grocery stores and similar). Commission a crinkle-cut 3D plastic ad with a molding of the product extruded from the front. Hollow, of course, to save weight. Rent some advertising space in suitable locations. Install ads, with fragmentation bombs packed inside the 3D extrusions. Detonation controlled by cellphone, natch. (Luckily most "terrorists" are too dumb to walk and chew gum simultaneously -- see posting about the Birmingham Nine for a case in point -- so this won't happen. But it's amusing to speculate how the securitate would respond to real exploding advertisements ...) </thinks> #85 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:15 AM: Y’know for all the ‘lighten up–it was a JOKE’ postings I’m still irate about the whole thing, and not against the Boston officials. First there’s the “guerrilla marketing” aspect: I’m sick to death of every fungible urban surface being abused with advertising. IBM surreptitiously painting faux “graffiti” on city sidewalks, Sony doing the same on buildings for their PSP, now Turner Networks sticking up LED & battery contraptions over subway platforms & bridges. How the hell are these any different from the “Work From Home”, “We Haul Trash”, “Lose Weight Now” etc. sign posters that staple their trash to my neighborhood trees & telephone poles at night? They’re not. They’re encroaching on my public space and damn it I want to slap their hands hard for trying to grab it. If they want to run an ad campaign then do it on commercial turf, not blots left to rot on my public infrastructure. And emphatically not haphazardly “magnetically attached” over where the public stands while trains race by. Their insipidity doesn’t excuse their inappropriateness. Then there is context. Sure the blinking animated characters can be laughed off as an over-reaction, once one knows what the hell the signs are, when they’re properly photographed. But to J. Random Transit Employee, trying to figure out what the heck this new thing is, where it shouldn’t be, with wires & batteries, stuck in places they’re told to watch for suspicious items, not so easy to feel superior over. Yes most of Homeland Defense BS really is nothing more then security theater (of the absurd.) On the other hand Boston is where two of the 9-11 flights took off. Tomorrow I’ve a meeting at a suburban Boston office where 5 of their co-workers died on those planes. Folks still do get nervous when they hear aircraft ‘in the wrong place’. Attaching random circuit-board-ey crap to subways, bridges, that really is just fantastically asinine. What next–mailing envelopes of white powder mailed with a a catchline printed inside at the bottom? C’mon, where didn’t someone think “Y’know, these could really easily be misread”? Boston & Cambridge have more then their fair history of pranks. Everyone snickers when a plastic cow goes missing from a steakhouse, something improbable appears on top of a campus building, office tower windows start to play out Space Invaders at night. But along with those has been a tradition of responsability–props strapped & buckled down against high winds, disassembly instructions left attached, lookouts ensuring nothing goes awry. This had none of those. It was intended to be an untracable, responsibility-free, hit ‘n run action. No safeguards, no contingency-planning, no follow-through. Indeed if it hadn’t been for some online bragging I doubt Turner Networks would have been acknowledging their involvement now. Then there’s Turner’s automatic cliche disavowal, “We didn’t do it, a marketing company did it”. No, the marketing company Turner Networks hired to do this did it, on their behalf. Signs don’t get manufactured and put up in multiple cities without it getting discussed with the client in context of the impact on the target demographic based on proximal visible locations yadda yadda yadda. There was a meeting, and an approval, money paid and contracts signed for this to happen. For Turner Networks to after-the-fact hide behind their consultants and project managers is just craven. Sure the contractor will take the hit, that’s what they’re paid for, but Turner Networks was the one calling the shots and really needs to own up to it. Yeah, I guess I am pretty upset. I’m upset at the appropriation of my public spaces by marketing companies happy to risk a negligible fine. I’m upset at the disregard for public safety–anyone want to be there when one of these slipped, bounces off a subway car and scythes into a morning crowd? I’m upset at the smug “everyone can tell it’s a joke” of those comfortably looking at headlines & flickr.com photos. And yeah, I’m upset at a nation that has turned into a place where actual funny zany kewl things are now discouraged out of fear. I suppose its only a matter of time before we find out that the city of Boston probably gave a license (or similar permission) for Turner to place these around the city as advertising. #87 ::: Jay W ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:45 AM: Congratulations Boston: You have just reaffirmed your title as "America's Least Hip Large City Not Located in Ohio." #88 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:04 AM: Claude @5 - I have no doubt they'll get an affronted letter from the Australian Ambassador complaining that the Australian Federal Police weren't alerted, as well. Security theatre at its best. And, in an effort to maintain the highbrow tone of this thread: I come from the city of Boston The home of the bean and the cod Where we don't watch too much Turner TV So their marketing gestures seem odd It's the lights and the blink and they're flashing And the shape is as strange as can be I don't recognise what that thing is Well, it could be explosive - let's see! All right, it goes boom when we blast it So the whole city needs to shut down There's been quite a few of these sighted My god! Ter'ists target our town! They're what? Just a marketing gimmick? Well, let's just say it was a hoax Arrest the poor artist who made 'em And try to crack down on the jokes That's the news from the city of Boston The home of the bean and the cod Let us hope that they teach the D of H S To act somewhat less like a tin god! (I know, it's not a sonnet. Must try harder) #89 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:14 AM: I have to agree with Michael. Ordinarily I'm right there laughing at security theater (the Exploding Shampoo Plot!), but I quote a post on the b0st0n LJ community: ... if I'm reading this community correctly, if someone were to put Care Bears stickers on a real bomb, they'd be able to blow up every hipster in the Boston area, as long as they posted about it on LJ beforehand... because you'd all show up for the LULZ. Good to know. and funny, I'm reasonably sure you all didn't step forward to check whether any of the devices were real before you saw the pictures. And Victor S, Jay W, could we lay off pointing and laughing about how lame we always knew Boston was and how stupid all Bostonians are? Some of us, y'know, really like the city. #90 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:50 AM: But wouldn't that be the most effective way to plant a bomb? "It's just a toy, silly..." :BOOM: Melissa, no offense, but have you looked at any of the pictures of the things? They're basically circuit boards--no room to store explosives, not matching even the Hollywood idea of what a "bomb" ought to look like. There's a battery pack, and a thin backing (from the look of it, thinner than my thumb) with lights in the shape of a cartoon character on it. That's it. #91 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:03 AM: They're advertsing signs. Presumably, the city doesn't give detailed permission for established hoardings, but the company running the site would know what was supposed to be there. Maybe those companies need to think a bit about how they might be able to provide the info to a bomb squad somewhere. Maybe they'll not accept this sort of self-illuminated add-on. And maybe the Police need to think about how they can check whether something advertising-like has been authorised. There's some procedural lessons here. But if these signs were not authorised, by the property-owner, the city, or whoever might have the authority (I see heardings here in the UK with the name "ClearChannel" on the frame), then the advertising company and their clients should be fined for that breach of the law. And, going by the pictures of those things, I doubt I'd even guess what was being advertised. Maybe a Windows Vista version of Space Invaders? Never mind the security theatre, this looks like really dumb advertising. #92 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:11 AM: I swear I saw one of those the last time I was driving around Boston (was it a few weekends ago for Arisia? Or before that? I don't remember.) I was stopped at a light somewhere and there was something suspended from multiple cables that looked an awful lot like the flickr pictures I've seen. I couldn't figure out what the hell it was, but it never even occurred to me that it might be something dangerous -- more likely, some strange and useless thing we'd spent way too much taxpayer money on :-/ #93 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:15 AM: What I've learned. I look around at the LEDs currently scattered around the desk[1] and I realize that Boston is no longer a safe place for me to go, since, well, if they found out I use LEDs (gasp!), who knows what will happen? BTW, as much as I can speak for GT (which is about the same as you could) we didn't do it either. [1] Mount a really bright red LED on a heat sink. Heat Sink? Yes, if the LED is bright enough, you'll need one. Six inches away, mount a really bright green LED. If you use the right LEDs, you can mount them both on the same heatsink. Try not Now, beg, borrow or build drivers for these LEDs, and wire them up. Fiat Lux. Point them at things. Now, don't bother looking at the objects you are illuminating, look at the shadows on the wall. (I said use really bright LEDs.) Interesting, aren't they? These LEDs are the closest thing to a point source you're likely to get, so you get very sharp edged shadows, even at some distance. Wait -- all those shadows have Red and Green fringes. What happens if you put on Red-Green Anaglyph 3D glasses? #94 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:29 AM: #85: Isn't it possible to be angry both at the misappropriation of public space and the irresponsible behavior of Boston public officials? Why must it be one or the other? One can be angry at guerrilla advertising as well as the blatant misinterpretation of such at the same time. It's hard to justify recognizing something as a bomb when there are no explosives involved. Random stranger on the street might not be able to do it. But surely the bomb squad can? The only reason why there was any risk to public safety here was because Boston public officials behaved inappropriately. #89: The carebear sticker argument is pretty specious. No one has said that the bomb squad should not have gotten involved. If you see a suspicious package, absolutely go call the bomb squad rather than check it out yourself. However, the bomb squad should be competent enough to determine this is not a bomb. Our public officials should be competent enough to treat a non-bomb for what it is, nothing to worry about. The bomb squad's mere involvement should not be enough to shut down Boston's transportation infrastructure. There ought to be some sort of credible positive finding in the chain somewhere. (Actually, I should point out that some suitably devious and clever person (not me) could orchestrate some sort of DDOS attack on the bomb squad.) BTW, practically everyone reading this comment is near at least one device which matches the description of the so-called "suspicious devices." I hate how people keep repeating the words "circuit board", "wires", and "batteries" as if anything which contains them is automatically suspect to blow up at any moment. Nevermind that they've just described their computer, PDA or cellphone. What we need here is not more fearmongering, but more information. #76: I, too, suspect that there was a hoax on the part of those who made the phone calls. (And now some poor guy not involved in the actual hoax has gotten arrested for it.) (BTW, I agree with #91 that this is stupid advertisement. But like I said, I think "a pox on both your houses" is a valid reaction. But we can't shut the city down every time a marketing agency implements a stupid ad. Now, if it turns out that Turner or their delegates had gotten permission to put up these signs, then Boston public officials shut the city down over a bureaucratic snafu. That would just be sad.) #95 ::: John Blonde ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:35 AM: I live and work in Boston, and if the damn things had been on the visible sides of buildings or hanging from crossing lights, there wouldn't have been as much concern. But the first one was noticed in day light, from a distance where the cartoon nature was not clear, hung where, were it a bomb, it would have damaged part of the city's transportation infrastructure. Many of the others were on bridges. The guys hired by the marketing firm were stupid. They hung them in places guaranteed to make security officials and transit employees twitch. I assume it was a thoughtless choice. Because I hate security theater as much as the next joe, this pisses me off. The marketing drones' idiotic choices of location only adds to the problem of over-reaction. People who work security have no sense of humor about things like this. They're damned if they do, and double damned if they don't and it was something real. Laugh all you want, but the people on the ground take it seriously because they have to. If you don't like it when the dog barks, don't poke it with sticks. #96 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:41 AM: Oh fewgawdsake. take a look a this photo. A flat panel, with no depth to it at all, A bunch of LED's that look like a Space Invader giving you the finger, and a couple of batteries. If the bomb squad gets called to investigate a "suspicious" device and it turns out to be an iPod in a toilet, then the idiot in that picture is the guy who thought the ipod was a bomb, not the guy who dropped it. The level of idiocy is only amplified when said idiot, rather than admit they were an idiot and a f-ing coward, instead externalize the blame with misdirection. #97 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:48 AM: Joe and Monkey's reaction here. #98 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 09:58 AM: C'mon, authorities--if you're planting a bomb, you don't put blinking lights on it. Sheesh, have we all gone crazy? But the answer is, no we haven't gone crazy; we've been crazy for a long time. #99 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:07 AM: Just to loop back to a couple of people here who are doing the "they should have known better than to pull a stunt like this" jag. No. I work in the Hancock Tower. The building was evacuated on 9/11. I know what the issues are. I can accept that John Clueless Public might panic about something stupid. What I do not accept, and should not have to, is that my government panics and then tries to justify it. If a squirrel throws an acorn and hits me on the head and I think it's a nuclear bomb dropped by unseen enemies, I want the people who are responsible for my security to say "That's an squirrel. An asshole squirrel, but just a squirrel." I'm not afraid of squirrels. Or acorns. I'm afraid of my government trying to make me live in fear of shadows when they should be worried about the things that cast them. #100 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:29 AM: This was on the local news last night; what news people described as "a similar device" had been found and removed in Philadelphia (and it was a Mooninite giving the finger). Supposedly there are 55 other devices somewhere in the city. Also, last night some city bigwig was talking about something on the order of a$10K / day / sign fine for this.

#101 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:29 AM:

Thank you, Michael @ #85, for saying a lot much better than I did.

In the cold light of the next day, I'm still not angry at the police and government officials, at least in their initial reaction. One suspicious device could be an accident, two a coincidence, but ten, you'd better react as if it's a terrorist attack.

We pay police to be professionally paranoid. Sometimes, we pay our government officials to look foolish when it turns out to be a false alarm.

My bus this morning took me under the underpass where one of the Mooninite signs was. If I'd actually seen it these past three weeks, I'd probably have wondered that some advertising company had gotten permission for the damn thing. It's not my job to make the call that something is suspicious.

When a bunch of simultaneous (or nearly) calls come in about suspicious devices scattered all over at key points in the infrastructure, I can't imagine a better time than to push The Big Red Panic Button.

More mysterious blinking devices found in Boston.

Unlike the ATHF ones, though, these things are really suspicious:

• Much larger volume, so they could actually contain a meaningful amount of explosive
• Many of them make odd noises periodically
• They display a countdown timer
• They have no apparent purpose
(What? Pedestrian signal, you say? Exactly. This is Boston. No apparent purpose.)

#103 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 10:50 AM:

Posting from the hopelessly uncool, loserville, hick town of Boston:

1. Each of these things was in turn quickly identified as harmless. Before noon, it was obvious that the likelihood of any real danger was remote. The police were saying "hoax, not real terrorism" fairly early in the day. However, they were all found attached to major pieces of infrastructure, in non-obvious places for advertising.

2. The demographic of people who'd recognize the figure doesn't overlap well with maintenance and sanitation workers (the people finding them) OR with bomb squad personnel (the people investigating them.)

3. Turner and its advertising company could have taken the wild'n'crazy step of getting permits for these things. Note: Turner's weaselly apology does not claim, makes no suggestion, that they did.

4. Someday, we're going to going to encounter another well-planned terrorist attack. (In fact, we already have. The Shampoo Plot was Security Theater, but the Madrid and London commuter bombings were quite real.) They're not all idiots, and disguising bombs as children's toys is not a new idea.

The main criticism I have of the police and the local media is that, if they'd let pictures unpixilated, this would have been identified and explained sooner. The main criticism I have of our politicians is that, in the embarrassment of finding out it was an ad campaign, they're clinging to the "hoax" language, in an attempt to prosecute the perps under that law, rather than just suing them for terminal idiocy.

But Turner and Interference do seriously deserve to be sued for terminal idiocy.

Ten... and after the first one they examined turned out to be a LiteBrite? Why not stand down then?

Listen, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people saw these things, in ten cities, over the course of weeks, and instantly evaluated 'em correctly.

This one ranks right up with the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast.

Meanwhile, to add to the What Folktale Covers This thread: The Three Sillies.

#105 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:03 AM:

#99: exactly.

The problem this little fiasco draws attention to is the fact that our government has once again failed to respond at a level appropriate to the actual threat.

(1) Cat 5 hurricane plowing towards Cat-3 dikes. Government response? Sit on its ass for a week before it hits, then sit on its ass for a week after it hits.

(2) panicked civilian calls in a possible bomb that is actually an Etch-A-Sketch. Government response? Shut down the city for a day, call in every possible gvernment agency to respond: the ATF, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CYA.

Both a complete-lack-of-response to a real threat and a oh-my-gawd-we-are-gonna-die-response to a nonexistent threat are totally inappropriate for the agencies who are supposed to be able to deal with these sorts of things.

I still say that the person who called the police in the first place should be flogged. But people panic. I can at least understand that on some level. If you want to live in fear of any object larger than a grapefruit because someone might have hollowed it out and put explosives in it, fine. It's your life. Be an idiot. Just don't expect me to empathize with your state of eternal panic.

Given that people panic, the government response should be to treat any call as a real threat up front, and quickly establish whether it is a false alarm, and call off the dogs. How this escalated over several hours without getting resolved is beyond me.

false alarm

It wan't a "hoax"
it wasn't even a "suspicious device".

It really was a false alarm.
It really was a chicken-little response to a non threat.
It really was a failure of the government to respond to a level appropriate to the actual threat. And they apparently failed to respond at the appropriate level for far longer than should have taken to figure out it was a false alarm.

#106 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:12 AM:

JC at #94: (Actually, I should point out that some suitably devious and clever person (not me) could orchestrate some sort of DDOS attack on the bomb squad.)

That's precisely what the IRA used to do every so often. You can cause an awful lot of disruption with very little risk and effort using variations on the theme of "every tenth device is real, and sometimes all ten on the same day are real".

#107 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:13 AM:

For info on the "devices" in San Francisco, see this (from SFGate).

#108 ::: Eli ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:15 AM:

I guess it's kind of strange that the Charles River was "shut down" for boat travel when the river is actually frozen over right now.

#109 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:19 AM:

abi @ #83, yes, a fascinating book. That's only one of many good stories in it. It's called Braver Men Walk Away, by Peter Gurney (MBE, GM and Bar). I hope you still have your copy, it seems to be out of print.

#110 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:30 AM:

The department that Bush has put together resembles a clown car -- clowns pour out and run around doing their clown things that result in no fruitful activity.

I have a friend who works for the IRS. She says IRS employees are grateful because FEMA has become the most hated agency of the government. The silver lining for them, I suppose.

#111 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:31 AM:

#104: Listen, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people saw these things, in ten cities, over the course of weeks, and instantly evaluated 'em correctly.

One news story I saw last night said that while these things had been in place in multiple cities for multiple weeks, they had been left turned off--no blinky--and the ones in Boston were the first batch to be turned on.

Can anyone confirm that? If true, it puts the lack of previous reports in an entirely different perspective.

#112 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:31 AM:

#105 Greg London "(2) panicked civilian calls in a possible bomb that is actually an Etch-A-Sketch. Government response? Shut down the city for a day, call in every possible gvernment agency to respond:"

Greg, this is called NIMS. I'm sure Jim Macdonald has received this training. As an elected official, I also had to go through this training. This is what the Federal Government requires.

That doesn't excuse the people responding for not saying, "it's a false alarm, stop the process." But those "initial responders" are discouraged by the NIMS systems from making that call. We're all supposed to defer up the chain to the Incident Manager's judgement.

NIMS is a one sized ass-hat that fits all (situations).

#113 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:35 AM:

Greg writes:
If you want to live in fear of any object larger than a grapefruit because someone might have hollowed it out and put explosives in it, fine.

Sounds about right for a couple of kilos of Californium 251 and a stasis generator.

#114 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:47 AM:

How this escalated over several hours without getting resolved is beyond me.

FWIW, my count of the timing is that the police response escalated over about an hour and a half, after which it was all over but the untangling and the irritation. The initial report was a little before 9am, I'd wager; the response was on-scene at 9:15, when the Fox 25 traffic helicopter started wondering what was up; it was on TV at 9:20; and it was resolved and reported to be resolved by the time I got to work: 10:30.

There was a lot of untangling, as jumbled reports went around and more of the things were found; there was fixing the traffic snarl that the Sullivan Square location inevitably caused; and there was a lot of residual panic and anger as everyone realized they'd basically participated in an unintentional joke. But -- hour and a half?

I think that's pretty good, for a lumbering arm of government, to go from OMGWTFTerrorism all the way to Those damn kids get them offa my lawn in an hour and a half. Government doesn't exactly stop on a dime.

Now, the NEWS people escalated it for the rest of the day; and I'm sure some headless chickens in the business district did continue to freak out throughout the evening commute; but, yeah. I could report to my coworkers that nothing was actually going on at 10:30am. (They'd all been at work on time, and hadn't heard a thing about it anyway.)

#115 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 11:57 AM:

#112: But those "initial responders" are discouraged by the NIMS systems from making that call.

Yeah, I know. I also said:

the government response should be to treat any call as a real threat up front, and quickly establish whether it is a false alarm, and call off the dogs. How this escalated over several hours without getting resolved is beyond me.

I wasn't complaining about the first response of the first responders. But it shouldn't have taken a day to sort out that it was a false alarm.

#116 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:03 PM:

Sounds about right for a couple of kilos of Californium 251 and a stasis generator.

Well, then you know what's in it. My point was dealing with an unknown. The amount of panic that came out of a bunch of "unknowns" that turned out to be "litebrites" was ree-diculous. I think it reflects that far too many people respond to "unknown" with "fear".

the proper response to an "unknown" is "respect".

No doubt, the Presidency of Fear likes the country in a perpetual state of defer-to-the-government fear, but I think it sucks.

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:11 PM:

NPR reported this like a serious story this morning. Here's what I just wrote to them:

OK, I know NPR doesn't deal in pictures, but have you SEEN one of these things? Only a flaming idiot could mistake one for a bomb! And no one did, in any of the other cities.
The Mayor of Boston is really showing what a fool he is. Having massively overreacted to an imaginary threat, he's covering by scapegoating the poor guys who put the things up. And Homeland Security? If these are a serious threat, why didn't they even NOTICE them in the NINE other cities where they've been up for weeks?

Idiots.
Are we a nation of cowards and fools? Oh, never mind, yes we are. Disgusting.
Culture of fear. I hate what we're becoming.

Can anyone confirm that? If true, it puts the lack of previous reports in an entirely different perspective.

Yeah, like I said way back at the beginning of this thread, everyone knows that Real Bombs Blink.

Listen: If someone wants to make a bomb and get it thorugh, they will. Anything at all can be rigged to explode. Anything.

Short of turning America into one big federal prision on 24-hour lockdown, you won't stop anyone who's half-way determined, and even then it's iffy.

So, call off the dogs, disband Homeland Security, and let's get back to normal.

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:13 PM:

Land of the Free, and the home of the Brave, eh, Xopher?

#120 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:17 PM:

#115 Greg London, the NIMS system discourages "initial responders" from making the call. It has to get bumped up to Coordinators and Regional Blah Blah Blahs. There is no choice. The NIMS program was set up by people who don't know what Chain of Command really means and would rather have micro-management from the top.

So the people who went out to eyeball the things might have sent back the word that they were nothing, and then got over-ruled by people who could see "the big picture." Forget that some people on the ground really know what they're talking about. Forget what makes sense. We've got these binders with "approved" response plans.

Ain't right, but that's our current government.

So we agree, I'm just saying this is why the chain wasn't halted sooner. Once it's a "possible incident" all the gears start moving. Before, it would be handled by a small group of people and the message could be handled. Now it requires involvement of people who don't know anything about the actual incident, but their jobs depend on making sure all the action points are checked off.

#121 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:19 PM:

#111:GlendaP Can anyone confirm that? If true, it puts the lack of previous reports in an entirely different perspective.

If the people in charge of thwarting terrorists only notice or react to suspicious devices that have blinking lights that are actively blinking, then yeah, it certainly does change my perspective. It tells me that after being needlessly inconvenienced I am going to be blown up!

Last Halloween I had a big animatronic scarecrow in my front yard. Rather than try to code and debug my microcontroller while it was attached to a nine foot tall scarecrow I put some LEDs on the contacts where the solenoids ultimately would go and wrote my script using them. LED 1 lighting up = lunge forward, etc. I'm just guessing here, but I would think mad bomber types do something similar when debugging their creations. If the LED is on either the detonator has failed or you will shortly be introduced to Mr. Shrapnel.

#122 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:21 PM:

My first reaction, when I heard that the "devices" were located at bridges, was "maybe these are RFID readers, and someone is tracking someone."

Could such a thing actually be possible? (Leftover or homebrewed RFID equipment in the hands of some guy)

#123 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:31 PM:

#111: Incorrect. One of the Mooninite signs was found in Portland, OR several weeks ago, and was blinking merrily away at the time.

#124 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:42 PM:

#120: Steve, so, you explain it. Now I put it to fiction. I've got this scene stuck in my head where a young Bruce Willis is in a police uniform, driving a cruiser around some metropolis. Radio call says to investigate a possible bomb threat. He puts on the lights and sirens and gets there first. Some little old lady points to the "device". He quickly scurries up the bridge, risking life and limb, only to discover it is a Lite-Brite device.

The rest of the scene consists of Bruce screaming on teh radio to those knuckleheaded superiors "IT'A A LITE BRITE!" while car after car of police, bomb squad, FBI, coast guard, helicopters, keep showing up. Two hours later, he's still up there, squatting beside the thing, voice hoarse from screaming, croaking "It's a lite brite" on teh radio, to which "superiors" say they're waiting for the terrorist experts from Quantico to have a look and make an official determination.

This then explains his "go it alone" attitude years later in "Die Hard" etc. And his "superiors" are still as stupid.

We've become as dumb as hollywood portrays us.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Yarrow 52: Yes, the reference was deliberate.

Jon 56: No, but it's a reference to one. A literary allusion, if I may say so. Bagatelle, IIRC.

Michael 85: That would annoy the hell out of me, too, even if Michael Barry #86 is correct. Reacting to it as a terrorist threat, and throwing the book at the person whose job was to put them up, is still very, very wrong...and ridiculous in a Kafkaesque way.

Caroline 89: I love Boston. It's the Mayor and the Chief of Police who I think are pompous idiots.

Niall 113: If you can build a stasis generator, I can think of MUCH more destructive things to do with it than fill it with Californium. Two words: relativistic effects. Think about it.

#126 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:09 PM:

#118, 121: Oh no, not the official reaction. That's a different issue.

I'm talking about the average Joe noticing them in the first place, in order to begin the chain of "gee, what's that" and "does it belong there" and "is it scary" and "should I tell somebody about it".

Much has been made of the fact that numerous sightings were all reported at about the same time. That becomes a whole lot less suspicious if the silly things had just then lit up.

#123: I'm not sure that a single case invalidates the claim. That one could have been a malfunction. I would still like to find a reliable source regarding the majority of them.

#127 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:19 PM:

"It's clear the intent was to get attention by causing fear and unrest that there was a bomb in that location," Assistant Attorney General John Grossman said at their arraignment.

This man is an idiot. how long must the farce go on?

#128 ::: Jose Marquez ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Victor @40, 53 -- If I had to name major cities, my East Coast bias would definitely come out: Boston, New York, Philly, DC, Atlanta, Miami, LA, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans. Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio and San Diego would get no love from me, looking at the infoplease list. Sorry, guys. But that's the thing: it's a big country. And maybe I'm just too easy, but if you say, "well, what about Phoenix?", I'd admit that it a major city. Same goes for the other three. Same goes for Seattle, or Nashville, or Louisville, or Portland, or Kansas City, or St. Louis. Or Denver, or Vegas, &c.

Wikipedia believes Boston is a major city. Amazingly, they even cite an outside source in describing it as such. Of course, the article is probably written by a Boston partisan, but still, I'm inclined to agree. I can't claim to be unbiased, however; although I grew up in Miami, FL, I went to Boston College and now live in Somerville, MA, one of the densest "towns" in New England (denser than Boston, though it certainly feels smaller). And that brings up another one of my biases: density. I'd like to see the infoplease top 50 cities be sorted by population density.

But all this is ultimately irrelevant. We have lots of major cities. It's the nature of our country. This means there are lots of targets. And there's no way to prevent every determine attacker from carrying out an attack, as Jim points out. I believe the initial response in Boston was adequate. The media circus afterward, exacerbated by our leaders, is the embarrassment. We are doing the work of terrorists, by being scared, by letting ourselves be scared. I'm afraid of many things, but I actively try to not let these fears dictate how I live my life. Sometimes I fail, but I will not stop trying. I hate that the very freedoms that make us a threat to others are the ones we've given up, and continue to give up, in the face of terror. September 11th was a great tragedy because individuals were killed, human possibilities extinguished. The greater tragedy is that we immediately surrendered to terror.

#129 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:26 PM:

According to a new post on Daily Kos:

Breaking: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Guerilla Marketers Make Fools of MSM

Apparently the guys who made the ATHF ads (and were arrested for it) gave a press conference earlier in which they blew off questions about the ads in order to chat about meaningless stuff like 70's hairstyles.

I can't decide if this is cool or stupid, which is how I generally feel about ATHF a lot of the time. It is funny, though.

#130 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:34 PM:

And now, the MSM's take on it:

Two plead not guilty to Boston hoax charges

#131 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:41 PM:

Steve at 120, one wonders, are the folks who are micromanaging from the top political appointees, in the same vein as HeckuvajobBrownie and his clones who were sent to Iraq to design the banking system?

If so, this all makes sense. For some value of sense.

#132 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:43 PM:

So, we've got this hammer (Terrorism Response Teams/DHS/Threat Level Reported Every Hour on the Hour) here. Hmm, why is everything looking like nails?

#133 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:45 PM:

#131 Lizzy L, not only are they stationed at the top of the chain, they designed the damn system.

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:46 PM:

Now I'd add another point: Both will be acquitted (and/or the charges dropped), and Berdovsky will be deported to Belarus.

Berdovsky will be deported to Belarus.

If he's lucky. He could go to Syria for a few months, until he confesses to being a member of al Qaeda.

#136 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:20 PM:

I saw how fast what was a silly/rather stupid joke can escalate into an apparent crisis with crisis responses, when I was a lieutenant in the Air Force... the bottom line is that there are some types of jokes (and advertising) that should NOT get repeated (doing it once was Dumb and with results all out of keeping with the intended response, doing it again thereafter is much worse than stupid. Don't yell "fire" in a crowded theatre as a funny. Don't yell "hijack!" on an airplane. Don't put weird devices up on bridges etc. with blinking lights... And it wasn't that long ago that a whacko in I think it was a northwest suburb of Massachusetts turned out to have a house and/or barn full of munitions, I don't remember if there were a report of what he'd intended to do with them, but it was not an amount of stuff and type of stuff, that your ordinary plays-around-with-explosives-for-the-fun-of-it-and-occasionally-damages-self-and-or-the-building-the-things-that-go-BOOM-are-in, would be experimenting with... (one of my college classmates had 7.5 fingers...).

I pass by Turner Broadcasting each day,
(it's visible from the Connector don't you see)
I think of all those programmes on TV
that I don't watch for I've no time for play
(except on here, and that's a different way).
Now down in Boston, by the grey, cold sea,
to call a show a bomb's the kind of plea
that makes the mayor common sense to slay.
It isn't that we're threatened by the clowns
who make our lives a misery for no good reason,
but that we've got to save ourselves from loons
who compass our destruction with their treason;
that's why we need protection from cartoons.

#138 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 02:49 PM:

For those saying "it will all be blown off before trial", Steve Kurtz, the art professor who was arrested in 2004 on bogus bioterrorism charges following his wife's death of a heart attack, is still awaiting trial on equally bogus "mail fraud" and "wire fraud" charges. That's nearly 3 years.

For those curious how you go from either art or bioterrorism to mail fraud: Kurtz does conceptual art, and the latest project was apparently something along the lines of a theatrical replication of some of the government's BW experiments in spraying bacteria presumed safe into the audience. The government concocted a theory whereby in receiving cultures of these bacteria from a biologist at the university, both became guilty of mail fraud and wire fraud because the biologist had not disclosed this intention when originally ordering them.

The point here is once a government agency arrests someone, they can almost always find or make-up some theory under which he is guilty of something and then prosecute for that.

Maybe this poor artist schmuck was late on his taxes one year, or misreported some deductions. Tax fraud! Maybe the batteries or circuit boards contain traces of mercury or lead. Toxic waste dumping! My prediction is that they will dig until they find some bogus or unrelated charge to file against him, and defending against that charge will bankrupt him and ruin at least 3 years of his life even if he's found not guilty.

This is why it's a big deal to turn our country into a police state - because everybody can be made to look guilty of something if you try hard enough. The innocent have more to fear than the guilty.

#139 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:01 PM:

I find Michael's and Caroline's "It could have been a BOMB!" arguments about as convincing as the phone callers on KUOW's "Conversation" show yesterday who insisted that not seeking the death penalty for Gary Ridgeway would result in other murderers deciding to kill dozens of people instead of merely one to four as a way of guaranteeing that they wouldn't be executed.

#140 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Also, and possibly more important: I am deeply suspicious of the commercial media's response to this event. How much of it can be put at the feet of piling on a corporate competitor?

#141 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:15 PM:

Coupla points:

No, it is not likely advertising permits will be discovered for these devices. Aside from Boston’s rigorous policies regarding outside advertising these were on infrastructure belonging to various non-city levels of government, and it is certain those agencies would not have permitted materials to be haphazardly attached to their structures.

Again, I’ll observe it is easy to Monday-morning Quarterback how safe these devices were. Standing in the cold, prying hand-wired electronics off of a bridge, over a subway platform, in full knowledge of incidents in Tokyo, London, Madrid, not so easy.

It’s also pathetically easy to say “Oooh! A circuit board, LEDS, some wires and a battery! Scaredy scaredies!”

Really?

There are several dozen labs within sight of just the first location stocked with materials that could have caused a public health crisis in quantities of a few cc. Radioisotopes from MIT, Mass Eye & Ear, or Mass General. Biological agents from MIT, Mass General, Biogen-IDEC, Genzyme, Millennium Pharma, etc. Heck even just nasty lab supplies from any of a hundred labs in the area sprayed onto the public below could have been tragedy. And that’s just stuff pilfered from within 1 mile.

Furthermore in my shaving kit I’ve got a cute little promo battery from Duracell, twist the “Coppertop” and it opens to reveal a deep waterproof pill case suitable for concealing all sorts of stuff (I keep my 1-a-day vitamins in mine.)

No, it was not unreasonable to be concerned about these ‘funny devices’. A 555 timer is tiny, so is a charge sufficient to distribute any of the above materials. Suddenly that second “battery” becomes something much worse, and the strange light-up sign the mark of a group with a letter of demands already in the mail.

That immediately after the first was discovered there were a rash of reports of similar devices, while the bomb squad was still evaluating the initial one, all attached to other bridges, was indeed cause for alarm.

Improbable? In the context of reports coming in of strange devices stuck to bridges across the city? No, thanks, I prefer folks who spend their days practicing Hazmat recovery and triage plans get alarmed when things suddenly get weird across the city. Yes, nearly always it won’t be disaster, it’s that exception when they’re responsible for 600,000 folks trapped in a dense urban area that authorities react upon.

Oh, and the poor schmuck who was just-doing-what-he-was-hired-to-do? Lopping shears to his gonads before he can reproduce. On your own or hired by someone else doesn’t absolve you of having a fucking clue, at some point as you’re surreptitiously, illicitly, mounting these around the city thinking (repeating myself) “Is it possible these could be taken wrongly?”

Did the media overplay it? Maybe. They certainly shoulda stopped milking it after it was determined not to be a crisis. But then we know if-it-bleeds/scares/enrages(justifiably or not)-it-leads.

Finally, why ‘close the river’? Because the fuel oil barges (at least used to) come through the nearby locks in the Charles River Dam (aka Museum of Science) to supply whatever Cambridge Electric is called this year. I spent many a bored hour in the tower of the museum watching tugs breaking through the ice and bringing the barges through 20 some years ago.

Assuming the plant is still active the barges must go through the choke point of the locks, directly under a bridge, in an area where it is very easy to hop off the sidewalk and get below. So if one was causing mischief with bridges along the river, and there was a fuel oil shipment, then delaying it, ‘closing the river’, would have indeed been prudent.

#142 ::: Jay W ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:20 PM:

To Caroline and others re: my post at #87, I've lived in Boston for a long time and love it -- but there has always been something decidedly un-hip about the place: Larry Bird instead of Magic Johnson; Sam Adams instead of Ben Franklin; beans and chowda instead of gumbo or pizza. Not saying this really had anything to do with the reaction by the city -- but that will be the impression, esp. now that SF, Portland, et al have weighed in.

Actually, having dealt with the City Machine for a long time, I'm sure once things got going, common sense lost to a desire on the part of all involved to prove the importance of their (nepotistic?) positions in the Machine.

#143 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 03:24 PM:

#141: No, it is not likely advertising permits will be discovered for these devices.
Yes, this is grounds charging that they have put up signs without permits, not grounds for charging them with terrorism and shutting down Boston's traffic infrastructure.

Again, I’ll observe it is easy to Monday-morning Quarterback how safe these devices were.

Based on the reports in this comment thread, the observed during the game how safe these devices were. (People observed before the game even started how safe these devices were.) The point is that the authorities knew these devices were safe and still amped up the public fear.

Michael:

So given that the devices could in theory have had some nasty substance in them, does that make "detonating" them with a water cannon a good idea, or a bad idea?

How does this compare to pouring random Dangerous Liquids into a big barrel at the airport?

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:04 PM:

from CNN.com, it would appear that sanity is returning:

'Assistant Attorney General John Grossman called the light boards "bomblike" devices and said that if they had been explosive they could have damaged transportation infrastructure in the city.

'Judge Paul K. Leary told Grossman that, according to law, the suspects must intend to create a panic to be charged with placing hoax devices. (Watch a Web video of men placing the light boards on structures around Boston )

'It appears the suspects had no such intent, the judge said, but the question should be discussed in a later hearing.

'Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were released on $2,500 bail, said Mike Rich, their attorney. The next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 7. 'Both men were cooperative with authorities, and neither has a previous criminal record in Massachusetts, Grossman said.' #146 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:05 PM: 136 Paula Liberman Don't put weird devices up on bridges etc. with blinking lights... It would be different if there where a bomb was disguised as a weird looking device. Using history as a guide, bombers put bombs in normal looking things that don't draw attention. The IRA put them in trash cans. Ted Kazinski put them into normal looking packages. Bombers in Iraq put them in parked cars and piles of rubbish. The Red Army Faction put the bomb that killed Alfred Herrhausen in a bicycle book bag. By carefully examining weird looking devices all we are doing is making sure that bombers are only putting bombs in their usual locations. It's like having a guy come to your house and make sure cattle aren't nesting in your chimney. You can't argue that it wouldn't be a problem if they were, what with carbon monoxide and all, and yet I doubt you'd pay money for the service. Also, in this situation they didn't yell fire in a theater. What they did was yell something like, "Hey Mike!" Someone else concluded that the only reason you'd want to get Mike's attention was because you had finished dumping gasoline on the floor and he had the lighter. If your goal is preventing arson there is probably a better way to go about it. #147 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:11 PM: First comment, picked up by Bruce Schneier here. Trash cans look like explosives to me. These, not so much. There's room in them for about 4 D cell batteries. #148 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:14 PM: Oh, and Schneier is linking to ML now. Heh. JC - Glad to hear you weren't affected by the panic. I was thinking of you when I first heard the news. At least the paper here in Boulder got the headline right: 'Aqua Teen' ad campaign panics Boston #150 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:55 PM: I gotta say that this publicity campaign? Way effective. I'd never have heard of Aqua Teen Whatsis if not for the Boston authorities getting all jumpy. I'd probably have gone to Boston, as usual, noticed the blinkybox things, asked the Gentleman "What're those?" and received a reply "A promotion, I think, for some TV show, I don't know, they've been appearing all over the place." And I'd never have given the thing another thought. Now, though, I know that it's a cartoon, and it's called Aqua Teen somethingorother, and it has a meatball, and they caused a lot of trouble because of the culture of fear. Very effective advertising. #151 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 04:56 PM: I've lived in Boston for a long time and love it -- but there has always been something decidedly un-hip about the place As a life-long resident of New England, I used to hope that we could still be cool in an un-hip, not-caring-about-what-anybody-else-thinks sort of a way. But now I'm just too embarrassed. That hope is gone. #152 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:13 PM: several dozen labs...public health crisis... Radioisotopes...Biological agents... nasty lab supplies...sprayed onto the public below... a cute little promo battery from Duracell, twist the “Coppertop” and it opens to reveal a deep waterproof pill case...A 555 timer is tiny...Suddenly that second “battery” becomes something much worse...a letter of demands already in the mail...600,000 folks trapped in a dense urban area...surreptitiously, illicitly, mounting these around the city... fuel oil barges... come through the nearby locks in the Charles River Dam These are movie plot threats. Terrorists don't do movie plots. You need to stop terrorizing yourself. (And while I'm busily linking to everything Bruce Schneier ever wrote, his take on the Boston incident is typically sensible.) #153 ::: Victor S ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:28 PM: Jose @ 128 -- Hear, Hear. If we panic, that's doing what the terrorists want. Michael @ 141 -- your facts are in error. You've been the victim of an important and common series of misconceptions, so I'll risk over-elaboration. Millennium in particular doesn't have any significantly hazardous bio-stuff, unless they've added it very recently. I used to work for them. Neither do most biotech firms; in my professional experience, it's very rare to work with plausibly infectious agents, and those are kept under careful control. Things that could kill you don't come in the door -- nobody wants to work with them. For that matter, the "dangerous lab chemicals" biotech firms use can mostly be bought at the grocery store -- molecular biology uses lye, ethanol, occasionally isopropanol, and agar. While you could do evil with this stuff, it would be retail-grade, 19th-century evil. Or you could serve lutefisk jello shots, which is more sort of baroque evil. The radioactives you conjure from MIT or the local hospitals could spread fear, but any real damage is again beyond the capacity of these sources -- there isn't enough material, because it's not stockpiled; almost none of it is volatile, because that's dangerous for the researchers; and most radioactives would need to be ingested to mess you up. Real safety will arise from, for instance, fixing the bits of the BU bridge where all the concrete has fallen out and the rebar has rusted away. And other boring stuff like that. #154 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:36 PM: Victor, I know it's not permanent safety, but the minimum necessary safety will only arise when you get Bush&Cheney out of office. Please don't wait for 2008 to start agitating. Thank you. #155 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 05:55 PM: I don't think I said "It could have been a BOMB!" The post that I quoted was trying to make the point that before people saw the pictures, it sounds genuinely suspicious to hear that there's some unknown electronic devices placed in high-traffic areas around the city. Yeah, when people who should have known the difference saw them, they should've laid off the EMERGENCY!!! response. Yes, when you see one, it's pretty obvious it's not a bomb, even if you still don't know what it is. And I agree that yelling EVERYONE PANIC! is hardly a good strategy, even and especially if you've got a real bomb. I lay the responsibility for that at the feet of the media, in this case -- even if the reports of "unknown devices" weren't intentially played up by the police, the news media would have heard it on the police radio and immediately played it with a screaming headline. But I'm sorry. I just can't join in the cooler-than-thou pile-on against anyone who even thought of taking it seriously, even before they'd seen pictures of the "devices" in question. Maybe this is because I heard the reports well before I saw any pictures or heard any more details, and I resent the implication that I'm stupid and sheeplike for thinking "Uh, what the hell is going on?" or even having a moment of nervousness, before more details came out. A report that there are unknown electronic devices in several major locations around, yes, a major city, is not the same thing as hearing Bush say "We have information that there might be a terrorist attack, but the place, time and method are totally unknown." I get nervous about the former. The latter I read as a transparent attempt to keep me frightened and pliable, and laugh at it. I really don't think I'm stupid for seeing a difference. (I apologize for being so grumpy about perceived insults to Boston. Part of it is that I feel about Boston the way that many people feel about New York City, if you know what I mean by that. It's my alternate-universe home. Combine that with the fact that currently, my this-universe home is Durham, NC, and you get the result that I'm burned-out, touchy, and defensive about broad-brush negative remarks about places I call home.) We've already had two wonderful quotes come out of this fiasco: "That is not a hair question" and "It had a very sinister appearance--It had a battery behind it, and wires." How long before those show up on convention buttons, the second accompanied by a blinking LED? The coverage from San Francisco and Portland is fairly telling: One was found by the owner of an art gallery, another by someone who runs a coffee shop. The hipsters (and by extention their cities) found the devices amusing and harmless. Boston? A panic led by pop culture illiterate police and bloviating politicians of the clueless old goat school. The Boston tourist board weeps. There's also a line in the Boston Globe article about how someone at the bomb squad finally identified the device. Would you like to imagine his/her words to his/her fellow officers? Those belong on a button too. #157 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:25 PM: The reaction to this reminds me of a problem I observed (first- and- a- half-hand) when I worked for a forensics engineer. We- society- haven't given law enforcement good tools (methods / structures) to be able to back away from a theory gracefully. Here, the theory is the combination of person P is guilty of Crime C. We don't like hearing, so LEOs don't like saying, either or both of that P isn't guilty or that C isn't a crime.* We don't expect / want / provide for hearing LEOs say "We arrested this man based on the best evidence we had yesterday. However, futher evidence doesn't corroborate our theory. As you'd expect, not every theory is going to stand the rigorous testing we continually throw at it." No- for a LEO to say that is like they're saying "We screwed up and are idiots." That's not something you can expect people to say, so we've made a psychologically bad situation. Contrast with science- it happens a zillion times a year that a paper is published based on a first round of tests, and the theory tested looks good. If the theory fails after further testing, that doesn't necessarily reflect badly on the original scientists. * i.e. a case I know of where a house fire was declared an arson, therefore there must be an arsonist. After that point LEOs were unable to consider evidence that there was no arson. #158 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 06:33 PM: But, but Kathryn! If there was ever a lesson that Science needed to teach Ignorance, it's that Science is always Wrong about Everything. Only Ignorance is confident that everything is understood. Scientists KNOW absolutely nothing. Now rephrase the question, please. #159 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 07:37 PM: Michael@141: Is there a reason you keep ignoring the numerous posts that stress the first-responders did their jobs, but that once the nature of the items was disclosed, the hysteria should have stopped? My brother is one of those first-responders. When he goes into a situation, he goes in at the highest suspicion level. That's appropriate. It keeps him and a lot of other people alive. But once the situation is discovered to be a zero-level threat, you don't keep making a big fricking deal about it. It's nothing; it's over; go home. #160 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 08:09 PM: This reminds me of an incident from the later Roman Empire, during the reign of the Emperor Valens, a rather dimwitted and boorish, heavy-drinking fellow with a more capable elder brother (Valentinian, his co-ruler). Some people were accused of conspiring against Valens by working a magic device, rather like an Ouija board, to find out the name of the next emperor. The device spelled out T H E O D. . .(Ammianus Marcellinus 29.1.29-32) And everyone named Theod- immediately became a suspect. In the very Christian Greek East, Theodorus, Theodosius (the actual name of the next emperor), Theophilus, Theosebius and many others. The equivalent of the DHS in the later Roman Empire then went after anyone who had worked magic with letters. Most magical spells (many spells have survived, written in Greek on papyrus) did something with letters. People were arrested who merely had on amulets with letters to guard against stomach aches. Others hastened to burn their libraries, lest they be suspected of having magic books. What will it be next, Halloween decorations? Counter-terrorism in American has devolved into a witch-hunt -- complete with the admissibility of spectral evidence. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Satanic Conspiracy/Ritual Abuse hysteria of the 1980s. Well, what we have set up is a situation where two young men had to spend the night in jail before the judge looked at the prosecutors, just about snickered, and lowered the 100K bail to$2500. You can tell the judge is wanting to throw the case out entirely but is willing to let the prosecution embarrass itself further, if that's what it has to do.

This will have to be made to go away very quickly or else the entire trial will become "Why are LEOs in Boston retarded while they are apparently competent in nine other major cities?"

Of course LEOs are incompetent in other cities in other ways, or entertainingly corrupt (cf. Fajitagate), but that still doesn't look good for Boston.

#163 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:32 AM:

Incidentally, as it turns out, though the politicians continue bloviating and all, what was a big part of the problem, for the Boston police, was not actually the ATHF stuff, but rather two pipe bombs. (Non-functioning, both of them. And pipe bombs can't do *much*, but it's more justifiable (to me) than the ATHF alarm.)

The Boston Police Commissioner provides more justifications.

It's still ridiculous to call what the two artists did "a hoax," it's still security theater, Mayor Menino and Gov. Patrick just lowered my opinions of them about 4,000 percent, but... there was at least /other stuff/ going on that kind of makes some sense.

#164 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:44 AM:

Kevin @156: I have just put the second quote into my blue LED scrolling name badge.

Well, the Police Commissioner, aside from "hoax," also used "render harmless" instead of "discovered to be harmless." And he also goes on about the "consistent with explosive devices" nonsense because the department's so-called "experts" must have mentioned that IEDs often contain wires, batteries and duct tape, missing the fact that they don't often have Lite Brites and cartoon characters.

It's also pretty embarrassing that they had to have detectives doing detective work, rather than just have someone on staff with enough cultural literacy to simply tell them what in the hell it was. It reminds me of when my friend Christy's father suddenly became his police department's "occult expert" because he was the only officer on the force who could tell that a page of cabalistic scrabblings was in fact a D&D character sheet.

Also, if you read the report, the pipe bombs were discovered in the middle of the day as an unrelated incident. And it also doesn't speak well for the department that it took them two weeks to notice the "suspicious devices" and not until people started calling them in.

#166 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:19 AM:

As Steve Bailey in today's Globe says, one guy laughing his ass off about all this is Richard Parsons.

"You can bet that Turner Broadcasting's parent, Time Warner Inc., will pay for the mess here in Boston. This should be the shortest negotiation in the history of negotiations. The City of Boston is putting its cost at responding to the Turner scare at $750,000 -- the cost of a single 30-second spot for "Aqua Teen" on American Idol. A better starting number is 10 times that, or$7.5 million, the size of Time Warner chairman Richard Parson's most recent bonus."

Misson Accomplished.

#167 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:35 AM:

For some reason I think this David Bowie song is beautifully applicable.

"Michael@141: Is there a reason you keep ignoring the numerous posts that stress the first-responders did their jobs, but that once the nature of the items was disclosed, the hysteria should have stopped?"

Michael is also ignoring the fact that there are people in this discussion who actually work as first responders, and they don't appear to think much of the performance of the Boston authorities.

It's easy, as Michael's #141 points out, to "Monday-morning quarterback." It's also easy, as Michael goes on to do, to bluster about how people should have "lopping shears" applied to their "gonads."

It's good to stick up for first responders. But once your position becomes "hooray for the police, no matter what they do," you're just worshipping power, and it's not surprising when you move from there to fantasies about torturing and mutilating people who annoy you.

#169 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:34 AM:

pnh@168:
One of my many, many failings is that I always find it amusing when people try to lecture the likes of you, Teresa, and Jim about the seriousness of domestic terrorism.

#170 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:10 AM:

"support the troops, oppose the war"

could be redesigned to say

"support the first responders, criticize the political machine that wants to pretend this was a real attack"

#171 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:16 AM:

I've seen a newsgroup note to the effect that the guy who planted the fake pipe bombs -- which very clearly were a deliberate hoax intended to cause alarm -- has been identified but not charged. Can anyone confirm this? It appears that the real "crime" in Boston is enabling LEOs and other local officials to look like idiots.

#172 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:21 AM:

In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Satanic Conspiracy/Ritual Abuse hysteria of the 1980s.

You mean that period when a lot of innocent people were convicted of "Satanic" child abuse and sent to jail? Oh, good. Just what we need. More innocent people in jail. (Bangs head against desk.)

#173 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:50 AM:

Re: the "pipe bomber" identified but not charged, here's the source.

#174 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:14 PM:

IMO, Turner should give not one dime to Boston, but pay in full the bail and legal expenses of its two contractors. And make that stance public. Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute, and all that.

They probably won't have the balls, but it's the right thing to do. The Boston authorities made fools of themselves and should pay for their own mistakes. (Which unfortunately means the taxpayers of Boston end up paying - and, hopefully, electing some less idiotic leadership. Does Boston have a recall provision for mayors?)

@Michael 141: Yes, you could go around destroying every object you don't recognize, but this has two problems:
1. It's absolutely batshit insane; the vast majority of objects you don't recognize are completely harmless. (Including the signs in question.)
2. Most actual bombs will be disguised as something you (think you) DO recognize, anyway. Motor vehicles are a popular choice: they're big, ubiquitous, easily mobile, contain lots of interior space, some of which is difficult to see into, and even provide a source of additional fire and shrapnel. I hope I don't have to spell out why panicking every time a motor vehicle is sighted near a bridge or roadway would be a Bad Idea, even though they are far more threatening possible-bombs than a Mooninite.

Nobody but a complete lunatic would have mistaken a Lite-Brite for a bomb; nobody should be expected to anticipate the responses of complete lunatics, or curtail their actions because a complete lunatic might react inappropriately.

#175 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Lizzy #172:

I would hate to have to speculate that people (well, some people) seem to need an Other to get hysterical about, but it looks at least possible.

#176 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:17 PM:

Joann 175: Indeed they do. And they're not very nice people, either.

Here's part of a book being published online about them. (It isn't completed yet; later chapters will be published at the same URL as they are ready). The author is a psychologist who has been researching that type of personality for years (maybe decades).

And they've taken over our country, unless we can do something about it.

[TONGUE-IN-CHEEK] Because there isn't nearly enough of this sort of thing going on in this thread (come on, people! entertain me!) [/TONGUE-IN-CHEEK] ... this:

(Via the bipolypagangeek LJ community, via my husband's friends-list.)

#178 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:41 PM:

#122: Certainly they could have been RFID collectors; per a link from Gaiman's blog, Cooper is now putting up billboards that will display personalized messages by sensing the RFID in the car key.

#127: This man is an idiot. No, this man is an assistant AG. It's not his job to be reasonable, especially not at a bail hearing when his boss has already made a big fuss.

#218: "dense" != "big". Somerville does have playing fields (the NESFA clubhouse is right near one), but I expect they net less percentage of open space, mansions on big plots(*), etc. Cambridge probably has large areas just as dense, but it also has Brattle St. and Fresh Pond. Yes, I know Svl has some bigger houses out by Alewife Brook, but they're on tiny plots.

#141: Isn't Cambridge Electric now called Keane Software, or some such? I didn't think there was still a power plant there....

Chris@174: Just so -- but I'm betting Turner and the advertiser are going to ignore the only people who actually got arrested. (If Coakley wants to get really ridiculous, she could try to extradite the ad exec who reportedly told the locals to put the devices on (inter alia) bridges.

* cf that nut on the Jamaicaway with ~100,000 Xmas lights. I saw it before it hit the national news; that was one \big/ house, with enough room beside it for another the same size.

#180 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 08:54 PM:

PNH@168: Michael is also ignoring the fact that there are people in this discussion who actually work as first responders, and they don't appear to think much of the performance of the Boston authorities.

Yes--just in case the wording of my post wasn't clear, the hysteria that should have died down when they found out what these things were was on the part of the first-responders as well as the other authorities.

All text after 164 is a pale tan color that turns white when moused over, probably because of a broken tag in the link.

#181 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 09:51 PM:

Caroline @89, quotes "if someone were to put Care Bears stickers on a real bomb, they'd be able to blow up every hipster in the Boston area, as long as they posted about it on LJ beforehand... "

There are so many ways for some explosive device to be inconspicious, that, unless the bomber wants to make a very specific point, making it as conspicous as possible does not seem to be a useful strategy.

#182 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 10:40 PM:

CHip @ 179 - Yoiks! I'd want an opt-out. Will cars now need privacy policies? Could that be construed as a violation of CAN-SPAM? Is the message promotional? Almost certainly. BMW/Mini may actually be opening itself up to federally mandated fines of about \$11k per message.

I really like the Mini, and would consider buying one when my current car dies. This makes me like them just a little less.

#183 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 04:46 AM:

From what I've read about the Cooper program, the messages are based only on info that you specifically give them. So it's an opt-in.

#184 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 01:15 PM:

David G, are vanity plates such a big thing in the Bay Area as they were in the 80s? (Even I had one, ghu help me.) If so, you can bet half the Mini-Cooper drivers there will see it as an Opportunity.

#185 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 06:45 PM:

joann, they're certainly a big source of income for the state of Virginia. Mine is my initials phonetically.

#186 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 10:44 PM:

Larry@182: what does spam have to do with it? The message shows up on a billboard Cooper has paid for, not on your phone.

#187 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 07:57 PM:

#1. If it did turn out to be a "NON-BOMB" (as it did) then we say, "The Protectors Over Reacted"

#2. If it did turn out to be a "BOMB", (as it didn't)then we say, "Thank God For Our Protectors"

What do we want ? .... Something To Talk About ?

#188 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 08:08 PM:

It's funny that this subject lasted only 5 days and dissapeared....

What were we just talking about ?....

#189 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Steve@187, 188: This particular thread petered out because it was followed by other threads on the same topic. The conversation is still going on in those threads.

Also, re: 187, maybe you should try, y'know, actually reading the thread for comprehension. You might get a lot more out of it that way.

#191 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 03:10 PM:

while supporting the sentiments of the never forget graphic linked to I wish the text expressing those sentiments was a trifle better constructed.

of course after I defended that youtube nurse with the five years formal education I maybe should defend this as well.

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