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February 2, 2007

Why the Boston Police Department has no credibility
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM * 193 comments

For purposes of comparison, Here’s what happened when Mooninites got put up in Seattle. Manhattan and Brooklyn also failed to be panicked by Mooninites—and we really, really do not want to be hearing from Boston about how we ought to be more serious about security.

By this time, it’s clear to everyone that Boston officials overreacted to the Mooninite Lite-Brites, let themselves be suckered by irresponsible journalism at Fox News, and threw judgement and common sense to the winds. They might still have gotten a certain amount of sympathy if they weren’t now playing the bully.

August J. Pollak lays out the case in Thomas Menino is an incompetent coward:

I have never lived in Boston, and I have never supported a Republican for any elected office. But I would send money to a Republican opponent against Boston Mayor Tom Menino just to get him out of office if he actually dares to do something as cowardly and abusive-of-power as this.
A furious Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed yesterday to throw the book at the masterminds behind a guerrilla marketing campaign gone amok that plunged the city into bomb-scare pandemonium and blew nearly $1 million in police overtime and other costs.

As city and state attorneys laid groundwork for criminal charges and lawsuits, cops seized 27-year-old Arlington multimedia artist Peter Berdovsky, who posted film on his Web site boasting that he and friends planted the battery-wired devices, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown. Both were jailed overnight on charges of placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.

“This is outrageous activity to get publicity for a failing show,” said Menino, referring to the battery-operated light-up ads for the Cartoon Network’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” which sparked at least nine bomb scares in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Menino promised to sue Turner Broadcasting Co., the Cartoon Network’s parent company, and criminally prosecute Berdovsky and anyone else responsible for the devices, and to petition the FCC to pull the network’s license.

Attorney General Martha Coakley was put in charge of the case and said the companies behind the promotion would be investigated. She said the felony charge of planting a hoax device could be broad enough to allow prosecution even if the stunt’s sponsors did not intend a panic.

Menino is going on TV and insisting he’s going to send a 27-year old artist to jail for not breaking any law, because his police department overreacted and wasted a million dollars feeding a media frenzy and terrorizing the population of his own city. That’s a cowardly act of self-preservation, and were he not threatening the life of an innocent young man it would be laughable.

Let’s get a few facts straight on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force sign fiasco:

1. Attorney General Martha Coakley needs to shut up and stop using the word “hoax.” There was no hoax. Hoax implies Turner Networks and the ATHF people were trying to defraud or confuse people as to what they were doing. Hoax implies they were trying to make their signs look like bombs. They weren’t. They made Lite-Brite signs of a cartoon character giving the finger.

2. It bears repeating again that Turner, and especially Berdovsky, did absolutely nothing illegal. The devices were not bombs. They did not look like bombs. They were all placed in public spaces and caused no obstruction to traffic or commerce. At most, Berdovsky is guilty of littering or illegal flyering.

3. The “devices” were placed in ten cities, and have been there for over two weeks. No other city managed to freak out and commit an entire platoon of police officers to scaring their own city claiming they might be bombs. No other mayor agreed to talk to Fox News with any statement beyond “no comment” when spending the day asking if this was a “terrorist dry run.”

4. There is nothing, not a single thing, remotely suggesting that Turner or the guerilla marketing firm they hired intended to cause a public disturbance. Many have claimed the signs were “like saying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Wrong. This was like taping a picture of a fire to the wall of a theater and someone freaked out and called the fire department.

That pretty much nails it down.

Believe it or not, this story actually gets more appalling, because this is not the first time this has happened. The Boston city government has zero credibility on this issue. The Boston Police Department already pulled the “anything with wires sticking out must be a bomb” stunt. They did it to a nonviolent protester, Joe Previtera, in May 2006. Here’s the photo: a kid standing on a milk crate outside an Armed Forces Recruitment Center, with a black hood over his head and speaker wires dangling from his wrists, in imitation of the famous photo of a tortured prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

[Previtera later said] “We picked the location because we wanted to make people think about what they might be called or forced to do if they enlist in the military.”

But the demonstration didn’t go as planned. Previtera—along with four friends who’d come out to shoot photos and protect the blinded activist in case, as fellow BC student Nick Fuller-Googins put it, “some hyper-nationalist character came up and punched him in the stomach”—figured the cops would warn him before they tossed him in the clink. But they didn’t. First, Previtera’s friends say, someone came out of the recruitment office and told him to get down; when Previtera didn’t, the person went inside. (No one from the Armed Forces Recruitment Center could be reached for comment.) Soon after, the cops appeared and watched the spectacle from their cruisers; shortly thereafter, the Boston Police bomb squad rolled up. Less than 90 minutes after the protest began, the police began taping off the area around him, and when Previtera stepped down, they took him into custody for “disturbing the peace.” But Previtera had remained silent the entire time. “I was really trying to play the role as accurately as possible,” he says. “So I was not speaking with anyone, just trying to stay there as still as possible.” Any disturbance came from the crowd of gawking spectators that, witnesses say, assembled once the policeman showed.

At the precinct, Previtera discovered that in addition to the initial misdemeanor, he’d been charged with two felonies: “false report of location of explosives” and a “hoax device.”

“This was supposed to be more symbolic than anything,” says Previtera, who never imagined they’d nab him for a false bomb threat. “I never wanted to scare anyone into thinking I had a bomb. I just wanted to make people think about international affairs.” He adds, “I never uttered the word bomb or explosive.”

…[T]he same day of Previtera’s protest, a report in the Boston Globe warning of possible terrorist threats read: “Officials were urged to take note of people dressed in bulky jackets in warm weather … or trailing electrical wires.”

Which is bullshit. What are they going to do, stop every guy in Boston who has a beer gut, or loose ties hanging off the bottom of his windbreaker? It’s on a level with telling them to watch out for guys carrying black bowling balls with fuses sticking out of them. I contacted a knowledgeable person of my acquaintance and asked whether bombers tend to have wires dangling off them. He said:
What kind of bombers?

Doing what? How?

Your basic suicide bomber has a pull-type detonator attached to his explosive belt, that he can access through his clothing.

Your basic demolition guy has a heck of a long wire going from his charge back to him and his hellbox.

Other needs, other configurations.

But wires sticking out of your clothes? I rather doubt it.

Then he sent me links to photos of actual detonators, some older designs, and the complete text of the Improvised Munitions Handbook. I hereby recommend the lot of them to the Boston Police Department.

He added:

The pull-type detonators I used to use were just metal tubes, painted green, with a pull-ring on one end.

You put your fuze wire in the opposite, open end, then crimped it in place.

You kept the whole thing dry by putting it in a condom: easy to pull the ring without even breaking the seal.

It’s nice to be able to consult someone with non-theoretical knowledge. Meanwhile, back to the story about Joe Previtera:
So if Previtera didn’t mention a bomb, what exactly constitutes a bomb threat? “It can be implied, with fingers and wires—especially in a heightened state of alert, as we are,” says Officer Michael McCarthy, Boston Police Department spokesman. And McCarthy thinks this is common knowledge, even if the wires are accessories to a costume. “Mr. Previtera should know better. He’s a young adult educated at Boston College from a wealthy suburb. I’m sure he knows wires attached to his fingers, running to a milk crate, would arouse suspicion outside a military recruiters’ office [when he’s] dressed in prisoner’s garb. If he has any questions as to why people think he may’ve had a bomb, then he needs to maybe go back to Boston College to brush up on his public policy.”
Standing outside a recruiting office in an Abu Ghraib prisoner’s costume, and studying public policy at Boston College, have nothing to do with whether you’re making a bomb threat, and everything to do with the police being irritated at Provitera’s political views. Which are none of their business. You can tell they didn’t think there was a bomb threat; they didn’t clear the area when they taped it off and called the bomb squad.

Here’s a second account of what followed:

“One of the police officers called me a sissy because I was putting my arms down, and he said if I was like the guy in the real picture I should keep my arms out,” Previtera says.

Then one of Previtera’s fellow protesters warned him that the police were beginning to get aggressive.

“I stepped down from the milk crate and took my hood off,” Previtera says. “There were four policemen right in front of me. I tried to walk away. They said, ‘You can’t go anywhere.’ They said I had to wait because the bomb squad was coming.”

To say the least, Previtera was not expecting this.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I just stood there in shock.”

The police proceeded to arrest him.

“I asked them for what. And they said they would tell me down at the precinct,” he says. “It was surreal.”

Down at the precinct station, “eventually, they fingerprinted me and booked me,” he says. “I was booked on disturbing the peace and making a false report of a location of explosives. And when I was in my cell I found out they added a third charge about a hoax device.”

The police alleged that the stereo wires dangling from his fingers constituted a bomb threat.

“The Boston Police Department made a judgment that he was committing certain crimes and arrested him for disturbing the peace, making a false bomb threat, and possession of a hoax device,” says David Procopio, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Previtera was held overnight.

“The police woke me in the middle of the night and showed me pictures of U.S. soldiers with smiling Iraqi children,” says Previtera. “The officers told me these were pictures that I’d never see in the media, and that the Boston Globe and The New York Times were communist papers.”

No wonder these guys got suckered by Fox News. They’re already in the habit of it.
The next day, the district attorney asked for $10,000 cash bail, Previtera says. But after the protesters showed the DA pictures of the action, he reduced his request to $1,000. The judge had Previtera see a court psychiatrist and then released him on his own recognizance. …

On June 8, the District Attorney’s office essentially dropped the charges against Previtera. “We began a review of the facts to determine if any of the charges were warranted,” said [David Procopio, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office]. “We spoke to police officers and witnesses, and after several days of our investigation, we determined that none of the charges were appropriate, and we basically terminated the prosecution.”

The Boston Police Department clearly needs remedial education in what a real bomb looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s not just a thing that has wires hanging off it when you feel pissed-off and want to arrest someone.

Finally: An irresistible dialogue on the technology gap between newscasters and newswatchers, found via Lyorn

(See also: Boston menaced by cartoon promo; traffic grinds to a halt, 31 January 2007.)

Comments on Why the Boston Police Department has no credibility:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:10 AM:

"Officials were urged to take note of people dressed in bulky jackets in warm weather"

London's police force tried the "bulky jacket in warm weather" excuse to account for their murder of Jean Charles de Menezes in June 2005. Unfortunately, it turned out even that wasn't true. The completely innocent de Menezes, however, is still dead.

Police work is hard. Many police are heroes. Many aren't, because power corrupts, something so-called conservatives have no difficulty understanding when the subject at hand is social welfare schemes, but which they completely forget when thinking about big guys with guns. This is because most so-called conservatives are fundamentally devoted, not to the nuances of Burkean political analysis, but to the glorification of big guys with guns.

#2 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:14 AM:

These are the people we have hired to protect us, and they do that by arresting non-violent protesters and stunt advertisers.

We are so f*cked.

#3 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:29 AM:

I must point out two things:

1. The two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center originated from Boston's Logan Airport. And the City of Boston has been taking no chances ever since. Does that not make sense?

2. If you see a SpongeBob lunchbox taped under a bridge, do you assume it DOESN'T have a bomb in it just because it's got a SpongeBob cartoon on it?

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:32 AM:

PNH #1: I want to disagree slightly. Most conservatives are devoted to the idea that big guys with big guns protect us from something that we need protection from -- namely our own ability to make choices that they don't like.

The Boston police department has done other stupid, indeed criminal, things too. Including, if I recall correctly, arresting a physician waiting to pick up his daughter from a dance class because a black man sitting in a Mercedes in a suburb had to be up to no good.

#5 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:35 AM:

Sadly for Boston, "Mumbles" Menino has never had a real opponent. (Heck, he got in by being the acting mayor when Ray Flynn headed off to the Vatican.) Every so often, one of the folks on the City Council (usually one of the at-large members) will make a quixotic run and lose, but so far none have even been close.

(In one of his other stupid ideas, he's suggested selling City Hall, which is right on top of Charlie's old Scollay Square, and building a new one in an area with very little transit.)

At least he's only the mayor of Boston; since several adjacent municipalities avoided annexation, he has no power in Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, etc. (Though each of them has their own silliness from their own city officials, of course.)

As for the BPD, read the Boston Phoenix's articles on their record with homicide investigations (bad), DNA evidence (bad), crowd control (they managed to kill a young woman with "non-lethal" weaponry in 2004), and so forth.

#6 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:36 AM:

...I wonder how much one of those Mooninites will go for on eBay...

#7 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:40 AM:

But then again, also from Boston: The Pixies. Lest We Forget.

#8 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:42 AM:

JKRichard (#6): $710.05, at the moment.

#9 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:43 AM:

A few days ago, on the way to work, I passed by a filing cabinet that was out on the street with the words free to good home taped to it.

Every so often in my neighborhood, someone leaves a broken television or stereo out on the curb for the junkmen to pick up.

There are about a half-dozen newspaper boxes outside the nearest subway station.

Now, if I'm supposed to cower in fear at a flat LED panel and panic at a lunchbox, what do I do with these things and their vast hollow spaces and suspicious wires? I mean, that was a three-drawer filing cabinet...

#10 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:48 AM:

I am puzzled by the implicit assumption that the mayor can use the police as his own private bully-boys and actually tell them to arrest and/or throw the book at someone.

Is there no separation of powers?

#11 ::: Dave Lartigue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:49 AM:

http://slithytoves.sytes.net/~dave/wordpress/?p=1707

#12 ::: the angry black woman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:50 AM:

I have no words for the complete stupidity revealed here. I will no longer keep NYPD at the top of my list of collectively stupid departments. Boston PD is really vying for that spot.

#13 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:53 AM:

Since I don't watch television, I'm puzzled about the reaction to this all around. I gather the discovery of the first device led to people noticing the others on the other bridges within a half-hour, before the first device was recognized as a harmless prank. I'm not sure that, if I were responsible for public safety, and I had this problem drop in my lap on a winter afternoon, that I wouldn't react much the same way. I wonder if we'd be laughing at the Madrid or London police if this had happened in those cities.

I think Mayor Menino is well within his rights at trying to recover the costs of responding to this operation from Turner Broadcasting. It's not like a city budget is unlimited. I do think our local officials could be displaying a bit more grace about this, but I don't think they're due the mockery they're receiving.

#14 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:01 AM:

I'm of two minds about this. When the first post was made it was the only souce of information and I was very much of the idea Boston was overreacting.

My wife, on the other hand, had spent the day ay home with the kids, and had seen only a little bit of news. She felt the PD had done right.

A couple points:

What does a bomb look like, and how big does it need to be?
The heel of a shoe, a bottle of shampoo, etc.

An unidentified item, with a cell-phone activated trigger and wires is attached to the bottom and/or the supporting structures of a bridge. Something to be concerned about, or not? Something you'd think is advertising? Particularly if the device is off and no lights are showing?
Bear in mind most bridges in Boston are in disrepair, some have been condemned, and we recently had a fatality from the failure of a single bolt in the ceiling structure of a traffic tunnel.

Remember, regardless of how it was done elsewhere, part of guerilla marketing is to push limits. Did they take out the apropriate permits to put up advertising on public buildings and structures? Then not exactly "Nothing Illegal".

Also, it was a big deal on the other site about all the phone calls to the PD.
1. What should the reaction of police be if they are getting a number of calls about strange black boxes with wires on bridges in a number of areas of the city? Should it be ignored, or assumed there is perhaps a plot (like in Spain a year or two ago when bombs were set off in multiple spots simultaneously) and take quick action.
2. According to the news last night, a friend of one of the two box-hangers sent them an e-mail saying (a la Orson Welles) that they were watching the city go nuts, and could have called in to say not to worry, but were instructed by the marketing company to remain silent.
So is that wholly un-responsible for the extent of the panic and over-reaction?
3. Guerilla marketing's job is to create buzz. No one really heard about anything from the other ten cities outside those cities until now. Now, it's on the national news. So, where did those well-orchestrated phone calls within a short period of time come from? And if, and I only say if, those were also orchestrated by the marketing company to bring the boxes to the attention of police and add a sense of time-pressure, then whose fault is it then?
4. As Sara @ 3 pointed out, the planes left from Logan, we recently had a tunnel fatality, and (like or unlike other cities, I don't know) Boston only has two routes in and out of the city, 90 and 93.

I am not saying there was no over-reaction, but I am saying it was not as cut-and-dried as it is being presented in some places, and that the marketing company and that likewise the corporate executives who planned this may not be as entirely innocent as they are being portrayed.

#15 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:03 AM:

dm, part of the derision (at least on my part) comes from another part of the story not discussed in Teresa's posting, namely, that this publicity campaign has been going on for THREE WEEKS in more than a dozen cities around the country. New York found something like 40, Seattle over 30, Philadelphia a similar amount--and they just took them down and went about their business.
Sara, I understand that Boston --every city-- has to worry about terrorism. But a LITE-BRITE? When, by the way, according to a poster on another blog, there was a billboard WITH THE SAME IMAGE along one of the heaviest trafficked highways in the city? Don't they have any 20-somethings cops in the police department? Heck, I'm fifty and I recognized the image immediately. Of course, that might be because I do watch Cartoon Network...

#16 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:09 AM:

dm: the important difference is that London has had a very large number of real terrorist bomb attacks (funded by, ironically, people from Boston; shame no tough-talking mayor threw the book at those guys back in the 1980s when they were blowing the limbs off teenagers in burger bars) and Boston hasn't had any.
And Boston doesn't get to indulge in senseless terrorist hysteria just because ten guys with knives took off from Logan Airport one fine September morning. These LED devices have been put in cities that are actually consumers (rather than backers) of terrorism, like Atlanta and New York, and somehow mass panic was avoided. And, key point here, Turner actually told Boston PD where they were; I suppose the message just didn't filter through. This was a Boston screwup the whole way.

#17 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:09 AM:

The link to what a real bomb looks like gets me a "Forbidden" response when I try to click on it.

Try this link, then go to Page 19.

#18 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:11 AM:

Regardless of the Lite-Brite things, the kid in the Abu Ghraib costume so obviously wasn't a bomber or making a bomb threat that the charge boggles the mind.

#19 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Charlie @ #10: The Commissioner of Police in Boston, as the first Google result indicates, is appointed by the Mayor. This is a desparately-poor-judgment issue, not a separation-of-power issue.

#20 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:13 AM:

My experience is very similar to Pedantic Peasant's.

Looking at some of the other posts, I think you have to step out of the position of omniscience-through-hindsight and put yourself into a few different pairs of shoes before casting judgment.

For example,

1) The poor MBTA-schlub who notices a blinking electronic box under a bridge, and wonders what sort of thing gets stuck to bridges.

2) Some person sitting in an office, far away from the scene, who gets a phone call about a weird thing stuck to a bridge. As the news goes out on the police band radio and people start looking for them, this person then gets several more calls in the next twenty minutes as more of these things are found on other bridges in the city.

The person in (1) might have recognized the thing as a likely prank, but didn't. The person in (2) is operating on little more than rumor --- that person isn't at the scene.

Since the National Guard draws heavily from these people, some of them have friends who are facing real IEDs every day. In Boston, some of them probably know someone who knows someone who knows too much about the IRA's own "IEDs", and not in a good way.

I'm glad I wasn't person (2). But if I were, I'd hope that I'd have a bit more grace and humor as I pursued Turner Broadcasting's marketing department.

It doesn't matter that the publicity campaign has been going on for several weeks. person (1) noticed the damned thing yesterday. That person didn't think, "Oh, that's been there for weeks", they thought, "What the hell is that?", and called for someone to investigate. In response to that call, lots of other people started looking at bridges and all of a sudden it was a movement.

And, of course, we have those "If you see a strange unattended package, please report it" announcements on the T.

#21 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:15 AM:

According to the Boston Globe, Menino has claimed that Michael Chertoff called him up to congratulate the city for "acting responsibly." I can't begin to express my sense of shame right now. (It's pointless to make the distinction that I live just outside of Boston.) I fail to see what is so responsible about continuing to propagate fear and panic after they knew that there was nothing to worry about.

The same article says that Turner has chosen to take responsibility for this and compensate the city of Boston the costs for the operation which it should have never undertaken in the first place.

At worst, the city should have treated it like the two fake pipe bombs that it, coincidentally, found at around the same time. i.e., they quickly determined they were fake and didn't amp up the terror. The Herald article I read (via BoingBoing) said that they had identified someone but haven't charged anyone with a crime yet.

At best, Boston should have behaved like the other 9 cities: recognized that these LED signs were nothing to get upset about, then moved on to more important matters.

(What I did find weird is that after we knew how harmless these signs were, police in the other nine cities started to take the signs down. Why?)

BTW, a comment about the arguments made in favor of the police reaction:

Most of the arguments in favor of what the police did are based on the notion "well, they didn't know what they had." As near as I can tell, they figured it out relatively quickly. "They didn't know what they had", at best, covers the first half hour of their reaction. It doesn't cover the entire day. Also, if they want to avoid playing into the hands of those who commit hoax, they should avoid raising panic until there is something to panic about. (That these people had no intent to hoax just makes it look worse for the Boston Police.)

Another argument in favor of the police reaction relies on the strawman that people object to any reaction from the police in this case. No one is saying that the police should not have gotten involved. No one is saying they shouldn't have sent the bomb squad. What those deriding the police are saying is that once they realized there was no threat, they should have stood down rather than continuing to behave as if there were some palpable threat.

#22 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:16 AM:

#10 Charlie Stross, the police are a part of the Executive Branch here in the US. So, no, there is no wall between the Executive and the Police. (Although, in my Village, the mayor has little power, but that makes for a hydra-headed chain of command). Arresting people, yeah, unless they have a Chief of Police who can control the Mayor. He can prosecute them as well (although the Boston Prosecutor seems to at least have a brain). Convict them automatically? No, he can't do that.

#23 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:18 AM:

I must point out two things:

1. The two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center originated from Boston's Logan Airport. And the City of Boston has been taking no chances ever since. Does that not make sense?

overreaction and fanning the flames of panic are just as bad as underreaction and doing nothing. Both are a sign of incompetence at the political level. Does THAT not make sense?

2. If you see a SpongeBob lunchbox taped under a bridge, do you assume it DOESN'T have a bomb in it just because it's got a SpongeBob cartoon on it?

Good grief. That isn't the problem. I don't know how many times this has to be said. THAT ISN"T THE PROBLEM. The problem was that it took WAY TOO LONG to figure out that the calls about "bombs" were actually litebrites. It took WAY TOO LONG to figure out it was a FALSE ALARM. That shows incompetence.

Does that make sense to you?

And AFTER IT WAS IDENTIFIED AS A FALSE ALARM, further incompetence was shown by the political arm by fanning the flames of panic to cover up their own overreaction. To justify the complete idiocy of shutting down a city for a day, they have to continue the propaganda that these litebrites were "bomb like devices", that this was some kind of "hoax" and the INTENT was to cause a bomb scare publicity stunt. No. It doesn't look like a bomb. No. It wasn't meant to cause a bomb scare. No. It wasn't mistaken for a bomb in any other city in the country.

But by continuing the ministry of truth language they can paint this as if their response was a competent response to be expected of any other city. IT WAS NOT. Does THAT make sense?

#24 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:21 AM:

dm@20:

So, what do you think I should have done about the filing cabinet I mentioned in #9?

#25 ::: Sternel ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:22 AM:

Sara in #3:

To respectfully counter your points:

1. The two planes that were hijacked took off from Logan. The terrorists entered into the air transportation system in Maine. Perhaps Boston should, from now on, prevent any flights from Maine from landing at Logan?

2. I would expect that any object, regardless of decoration, taped underneath a bridge, should provoke a different response than one placed in plain sight that is obviously meant to be seen.

I have no problem with taking all due caution. I'm a New Yorker; twice a day I ride a train in a tunnel beneath the East River. But I would expect, as soon as the lack of an immediate threat is established, that the authorities step back and examine the situation critically, instead of leaping to further and more dramatic conclusions.

#26 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:23 AM:

[wincing in Massachusetts]

I think some slack could be given for the fact that it was much less obvious what the things were in daylight, but as soon as those in charge realized it was a stupid gimmick they should have tried to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. At least it had some small value as a good drill.

Menino rather infamously has *no* sense of humor. I'm saddened that it also seems to be true of Deval Patrick )-:

OTOH, feebly reaching for reasons to feel less lame about Beantown:
Wisconsin investigates a suspicious-looking umbrella stand
Florida evacuates marine park because of suspcious-looking dolphin toy

I guess what's really worrisome is the extent to which the FUD has overridden any sort of even rudimentary common sense.

#27 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Yeah, Patrick is the big loser here. To think there was so much hope and energy after his election three months ago. Now he looks like a chump.

#28 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:34 AM:

What panic?

They blocked the roads that would be affected were these things really bombs until they identified the things. Once they were recognized as harmless, they took down the roadblocks. It was over in about a half hour, save for the Monday-morning quarterbacking, the embarassment and the media churn.

Anticorum: was the file-cabinet fastened to the bottom of a bridge? Did you find there were similar cabinets on a few other bridges before you had a chance to investigate the first one? If not, I wouldn't worry about it.

#29 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:34 AM:

For pete's sake. No one is saying that the police should ignore a 911 call from a panicked civlian who thinks he sees a bomb. Yes, bombs can be hidden in a show. Anything the size of a grapefruit or bigger could do some serious damage if its got some explosives in it. Yes, if the police get a 911 call for a bomb, they must respond.

The incompetence that is being criticized is after the call. (1) the delay from 911 call to determining it was a false alarm was too long and (2) the government's response after it was identified as a false alarm was to encourage and reward panic.

the time from 911 call to identifying it as a falses alarm seems way too long. If it had been a real device it might have been detonated during the delay. Now, it might be that the first patrol officer who pulled up took one look at the thing and started laughing, but the incompetence is in the system that prevented him from making teh decision to call it a false alarm and have everyone stand down. The incompetence is in the system that demands top-down decisions.

And the time delay I'm talking about is the time from 911 call to the point where the city as a whole knew it was a false alarm.

Yes, the media is to blame for some of that. But the city certainly didn't help. Once the thing was identified as a false alarm, the city appeared to be more interested in covering its ass than in establishing calm to a nonthreat. If it were a nonthreat, then they'd have to explain why the city was shut down and why every three letter acronym in the country was activated.

If instead they continue to use panic-inducing phrases like "bomb like device" and "hoax" (which implies the intent was to look like a bomb), then it JUSTIFIES THEIR INCOMPETENT RESPONSE.

The city encouraged people to panic so that the government's panic doesn't make it look stupid.

So, one more time, the complaint is not that the police should IGNORE a 911 call from a civilian about a possible bomb. The complaint is what happened after that initial response.

#30 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:39 AM:

How, exactly, is ATHF a "failing" show? They're making a movie! DVD sets go to multiple printings! It's certainly not my favorite CN show (not even my favorite Williams Street show), but calling it failing is just stupid.

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:48 AM:

Sara, as soon as I shut the front door behind me, it occurred to me that I should have mentioned NYC not panicking. DC didn't panic either. And since I understand that Logan Airport's security is still subpar, I'm not inclined to credit the city with a post-9/11 desire to never let that happen again.

Could the Mooninites have been explosive devices? Once you've seen both sides of one -- which they had -- the answer is "no." Contrary to the bizarre imaginings of DHS concerning eyedrops, perfume, and roll-on deodorant, explosives actually have some mass, and in most cases they're attached to recognizable detonators.

Since someone has obligingly put a Mooninite up for sale on eBay (thank you, Christopher Davis), we can all get another look at their actual construction. The one on eBay differs from the ones I've seen in photos from Boston in that it has black plastic covering its batteries. Perhaps the ones photographed in Boston originally had black plastic over theirs, too.

There are two ways to analyze this. One is that as soon as you gingerly peel back the plastic and find that the space it covers is filled with standard flashlight batteries, you have to figure it's either an incredibly clever bomb built to exacting tolerances so that it will look like and function as a blinkylight advertising device; or it's not a bomb at all, because explosives have mass, and (setting aside the "Q's latest toy" scenario) all the mass is accounted for by non-explosive components. (Note: the "incredibly high-tech trompe l'oeil bomb scenario" makes no sense at all. I just included it for completeness.) The other way to analyze the object is that if you know that they've already been up and running for some time, that plastic-covered blob at the bottom has to be batteries.

I have to ask: what happened to all that special anti-terrorist equipment and training our tax monies supposedly financed? Did Boston not get a single explosive-sniffing dog or machine?

It's been determined that Turner and their advertising agency got official legal permission to put up the Mooninites in every other city where they appeared. I have yet to hear yea or nay on that question regarding Boston, but until I do, I'm not going to assume that they were put up illegally.

#32 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:51 AM:

Did Boston not get a single explosive-sniffing dog or machine?

I think it got spent putting an anti-aircraft defense system around the world's biggest ball of twine and other "landmarks" across the nation.

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:53 AM:

I'd just like to say that I am already sick to death of hearing people whine that "the 9/11 planes took off from Boston, so we're being supercautious." Hello, you're talking to New Yorkers.

Don't you think New York is a little on edge after 9/11? Maybe we're just used to being on edge, because New York is, you know, edgier than Boston.

Or maybe more time has passed since 9/11 for us, and we've gotten some distance. No, wait, that isn't true either.

New York had no such overblown reaction. If there was any panic when these things were discovered, it didn't make the news, much less hold up traffic. Certainly no one was accused of making a bomb threat and treated as a terror suspect.

Let me tell you one or two things about myself. On 9/11, I watched my office burn and fall. I worked on the 96th floor of One World Trade Center. Want to talk about where they took off? My office was one of the places they landed (for certain values of 'landed'). 300 of my coworkers, including 20 who I knew at least to say hello to, died that day.

The other thing is that I had never heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force before this incident, and would not have recognized the Moominites in a million years. Looking at one of these things, I would never have thought it might be a bomb. (Sure, something with blinky lights could be a bomb. So could anything. So FUCKING what?)

Boston authorities were being stupid and alarmist about this. Stop trying to make excuses; all the excuses are pure bullshit. Merino is a fascist asshole, a coward, and a bully. Did I remember to call him an asshole? Yeah, I did. If he doesn't lose his job in the next election, Boston voters will have endorsed his actions in this matter (well, or been stuck with a choice between him and someone even worse...start recruiting credible Democrats NOW).

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to give that stupid excuse to ME will be cordially invited to osculate my hirsute posterior.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:57 AM:

And while I was ranting, Teresa said the same thing better, shorter, and more calmly. Not that I don't stand by what I said. I'm pissed off, and tired of being polite. I admire TNH's ability to be polite in circumstances where I...can't.

#35 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:05 PM:

What panic? ... It was over in about a half hour

Uh, this panic.

Mayor Thomas Menino has estimated the costs in Boston alone would be more than $500,000. Costs incurred by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, state police and the cities of Cambridge and Somerville could amount to another $500,000, officials said

If you spent a million dollars in half an hour for a false alarm, I'm sorry, but the only way to describe that is "you panicked".

#36 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Seattle also did not panic- although it is possible that court judgements against the SPD's over-reaction to the WTO demonstrations and the "Battle in Seattle" movie being shot here may have schooled the Police management levels to keep their heads when things look a little suspicious.

It would be good if the BPD and Boston City Government were given the opportunity to learn from this experience, too, but so far it looks as if they are being insulated from the natural consequences of their actions, somenthing which is bad for toddlers and worse for power elites.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:08 PM:

Xopher: And we've been grateful ever since that you were twenty minutes late to work that day. And that Chris Quinones was too. And that Michael Weholt couldn't get the fire escape door open, and walked away from it. And that Ellie Lang's neighbor grabbed her and pulled her into a sheltered spot when the tower came down.

Anticorium (24): IMO, that would depend on whether you needed the filing capacity and had some way to drag it home. But I take your point: we constantly run into objects of unfamiliar provenance that could be bombs, and yet we aren't constantly terrified by them.

A general comment: the reason I don't believe that the Boston city government is acting in good faith is that they were claiming they were "hoax devices" long before they could have established any such thing. They didn't know whether that was true, and they didn't care. They were making that claim solely in order to prosecute the persons responsible under the "hoax explosive device" law.

#38 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:11 PM:

#31 Teresa Nielsen Hayden
"I have to ask: what happened to all that special anti-terrorist equipment and training our tax monies supposedly financed? Did Boston not get a single explosive-sniffing dog or machine?"

and

#32 Greg London
"I think it got spent putting an anti-aircraft defense system around the world's biggest ball of twine and other "landmarks" across the nation."

I seem to remember that conversation and how most of the posters from NY felt it was so wrong that other places got "their" money (the appropriations were later changed).

And Greg, just so you know, I agree that the response in this case (Boston) was poorly handled.

#39 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:13 PM:

Well, if they reacted so quickly and with such vigor and determination to such obvious fakes, then they'll surely be on the ball when it comes to more plausible threats, right? And they'll quickly arrest whoever makes one?

Two realistic pipe bombs planted with intent to cause fear; responsible party not arrested.

Thanks to bOINGbOING

#40 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:13 PM:

(note to #39: In Boston, I forgot to say)

#41 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:15 PM:

#3: "The two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center originated from Boston's Logan Airport. And the City of Boston has been taking no chances ever since. Does that not make sense?"

I have absolutely nothing polite to say to this. The two planes that took of from your stupid airport crashed into my city killing thousands of people. Their ashes rained down on my neighborhood. I am completely. sick. and. tired. of being lectured by people from other parts of the US about how important it is to "take no chances" about security.

#42 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:18 PM:

To justify the complete idiocy of shutting down a city for a day

they'd have to explain why the city was shut down

To be a stickler for facts: Ummm? City didn't shut down? Workers already in city by 9am didn't hear a thing about it till much later in the day? Personally, I was at home and saw the news, and hopped on the T so I could get to work before delays got out of hand. But they never did, except on the affected Orange line. Yes, the rest of the T was running normally at 10am, with no announcements or extra security guards on trains, no searches that I saw, no nothing. (I mean, I was carrying a towel-wrapped lasagna in my arms, so I walked toward the T thinking of funny things to say to any nervous MBTA cop who might ask me whether I meant to blow up a building with my scary scary noodles. But nobody noticed or cared, and the work potluck came off without incident.)

I told my coworkers about the Sullivan Square non-story, and they all shrugged and went about their business. The evening commute was unremarkable. It was really, just -- not that big a deal in our day-to-day lives, except for the CNN punchline. The city was never shut down.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Steve (38), what we objected to was getting significantly less security allocations than Birdwalk, Tennessee. I don't think anyone in New York or Washington has said that Boston's security didn't need beefing up. And since presumably they did get some significant quantity of money, I say again: not one bomb-sniffing machine or dog?

Hey, come to think of it, I know Boston has bomb-sniffing dogs. I saw their bomb squad at the 2000 Boskone hotel, because Gore either had spoken or was going to speak there, and the squad checking out the hotel brought their dog with them.

Why didn't the dogs have a whiff at the first captured Mooninites?

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:24 PM:

The rest of you may have noticed that New Yorkers are just a tad sensitive about this subject.

#45 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:26 PM:

I believe I've used up my posting quota for the day. I'll just end by noting that

panic leads to stupid actions.

If someone is in panic mode, I'll be damned if I've ever figured out how to get them out of it. Or even get them to recognize that their panic and fear is not reality-based.

The more I read from people defending a completely inappropriate overreaction and subsequent scapegoating by the government, the more I get that some people are panicky, that they see it as a perfectly reasonable response (they don't see it as "panic"), and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

OK. Now I'm completely depressed.

#46 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:31 PM:

#42

Uh, to quote, "Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down Wednesday"

OK, that's my quota for the day

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:32 PM:

Greg, I didn't think you were over the line.

#48 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Holy crap, I just read that whole article:

District Attorney Daniel Conley said. ... "Commerce was disrupted, transportation routes were paralyzed, residents were stranded and relatives across the nation were in fear for their loved ones in the city of Boston,"

So, if the city wasn't shut down, the government is doing its damndest to make it sound that way. Maybe so they can collect a million dollars in "expenses".

Ok. That's it. Done for the day. Really.

#49 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:36 PM:

#43 TNH, I stand, or at least sit, corrected. As for not deploying the dogs, I think at that point rational cognative ability had already taken flight.

As for the people in Boston and "you weren't there, we have to be hyper vigilant," that may well be true. But, just how safe do you feel this morning having seen that the people in the position to protect you, the "experts" not only didn't handle the situation correctly by identfying these devices as a non-threat, but then wipped you up into a panic? Let's put this in another context, how may murders, robberies, armed theft, drunk-driving crashes, etc. have been committed in the city last month? Are the police giving these real threats the same consideration and attention that they gave to this non-attack?

If I lived in Boston, I would be seriously pissed that those in charge didn't do their jobs properly. After all, they are paid to make sure you are safe and deal with these things appropriately. They did neither in this case.

#50 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:40 PM:

FWIW, I've heard that very very few of the other cities' Mooninite signs were placed on overpasses and bridges and other infrastructure that would make a security person's spider-sense start tingling.

I think part of what went on Wednesday was a cascading series of events that undermined a sense of proportion -- continuing discoveries of devices at worrisome locations, so even as the earlier ones got cleared you had new ones to worry about.

It wasn't until after 3 PM (the first device discovered circa 8 AM) that somebody from Turner Networks came forward to let officials know what these really were intended for, took responsibility for them, gave a list of the intended/actual locations. If the artists or the guerrilla media company had come forward sooner, it would have helped a whole lot, of course.

The actions and especially pronouncements of Mumbles and the rest after 3:30 PM or so I'm not inclined to excuse as much, except to say that I'm sure a lot of adrenaline was involved. Terrorists tryign to blow up your city has to be one of the nightmares that mayors wake up screaming from in the middle of the night, though.

#51 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:51 PM:

PNH:

#41 makes it clear I went over the line in the first thread, and I'm sorry.

#52 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:58 PM:

Even when a terrorist plot is succesful in NYC, we don't panic (yes, SINCE 9/11 -- British Consulate). I don't remember people panicking on 9/11/01. A building not three blocks from my home was hit by a plane, and while there was a moment of shock, I don't think panic would describe ANYONE'S reaction, including people in the hit building.

Hell. I get more hassle and trouble on the FLL or PBI end of a flight to see the folks than on the LGA end.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 12:58 PM:

Why's everybody rolling out their tatamis and offering to commit seppuku this morning when the moderators aren't disturbed by their behavior? I mean, it's good that you're conscientious. We really appreciate it. But I haven't thought this discussion was going over the line.

It does have the potential to go up in flames, but normal civility should be enough to keep it running smoothly.

#54 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:01 PM:

A drunken truck driver running a load of lumber into a bridge abutment at 4AM can shut down morning traffic for several hours (this happened a few years ago). Putting up a roadblock on some of those same roads during the day can have a pretty significant impact, as well.

A roadblock for a suspected bomb, for the half-hour it takes to get the bomb squad and their bomb-sniffing dogs there to recognize it for the harmless toy it is, does not constitute panic.

I think we're relying on media reports here, are we not? The same media who get paralyzed for weeks by an American tourist going missing in Cancun?

#55 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:01 PM:

Uh, to quote, "Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down Wednesday"

I don't know about the Charles River -- although the train-and-cars bridge opposite MIT campus was functioning normally -- but with the original incident occurring at Sullivan Square, there was, in fact, one highway (partially) shut down. Possibly there were some brief shutdowns in other locations, due to the other doohickeys, but the big one was the 93 overpass.

As I hope this map makes clear, the Sullivan Sq. T stop and bus station are pretty much directly under the US 93 overpass. So, if you have a security incident at Sullivan, involving the overpass, yeah, 93 is going to be partially closed.

Now, is it a problem that 93 is THE main artery into the city from the north? And that even if you could get off the burgeoning traffic jam on 93, you'd get completely lost on the surface streets of Somerville/Charlestown? And that backups on 93 inevitably cause every single highway and bridge in the woefully rickety system to get backed up too, because we're a bunch of morons who don't know how to drive?

Note to terrorists: no need for bombs. Jackknife a truck packed with live chickens on the Tobin Bridge, and we will be laid low.

Our city and state officials have a flair for the dramatic, sure, but what pugnaciously self-aggrandizing city doesn't? That is what the copious (and large) grains of salt all over the streets are for.

#56 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:18 PM:

veejane -- I understand that when the Mooninite was found on the Longfellow Bridge, they briefly shut down the subway, the bridge, and Storrow Drive, as well as closing off the lock to the Charles River Basin. (Since it's mostly frozen these past few days, I'm pretty sure that they weren't actually preventing that much river traffic.)

Keyword being brief. I also had some odd and lengthy unusual commuting that day, yet it was unaffected so far as I know, and indeed aside from seeing a small report about the not-a-bomb-probably at Sullivan in the morning, I didn't hear about the emergency gripping all of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville until I was nearly home that night... despite spending most of my time working in or travelling through there.

And yes, I know the danger in extrapolating from personal experience, just because I had no trouble doesn't mean others were having a swell time....

#57 ::: Michael L ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:24 PM:

I'm a resident of a Boston suburb ( and a long time lurker) who uses our major highways around and through Boston. I think the media response to all this was stupid. But looking at how our media responds to the possibility of a snow shower, I'm not surprised.

I would add that apparently other cities did not have the devices attached to bridges, underpasses, etc. But that's really beside the point.

What all this shows me is how effective the current administration's attempts to create a paranoid nation have been.

#58 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:29 PM:

It doesn't seem terribly challenging to significantly impede traffic flow in just about any major city. A friend of mine used to be a traffic reporter in Montreal, and she claims she could shut down the whole city in morning rush hour with about three well-placed breakdowns. If she wanted to, that is.

#59 ::: Jennifer Pelland ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:34 PM:

As Connie wrote:

FWIW, I've heard that very very few of the other cities' Mooninite signs were placed on overpasses and bridges and other infrastructure that would make a security person's spider-sense start tingling.

I too have heard the same thing. From the press coverage I've read, it sounds like the Mooninites were put on private property in most other cities, or on train bridges that were no longer in use.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/02/02/device_location_was_factor_in_reaction/

If you're going to put advertising up on a city's infrastructure, you'd damned well apply for a permit first.

Also, when news of these devices first got out, the official word from Turner was to keep quiet about it.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/02/02/turner_broadcasting_accepts_blame_promises_restitution/

I'm not saying that the city didn't overreact, but Turner definitely owes the city restititution. They could have ended the panic hours earlier if they'd just spoken up.

#60 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:34 PM:

I think it's useful to distinguish three (at least) phases of the response. The first phase, where everybody snaps into action because there is something suspicious happening, was (I think) handled badly, not because the police overreacted, but because their reaction would not have been very helpful if there had been a dozen bombs in the city as was presumably suspected. If anything, they under-reacted. Mostly, though, they reacted badly.

The second phase was them figuring out that there was no threat, and then cleaning up. It seems to me that this took far too long, but then, I don't really know anything about bombs.

The third phase is where, afterward, they learn from what happened. No, wait, this is the bit where they refuse to learn from what happened, and instead start prosecuting people under an obviously inapplicable hoax-device law.

The Massachusetts hoax-device law, by the way, was pushed by a bomb-squad worker who had at one point dealt with a rash of bomb-threats called into schools, some of them with some moderately sophisticated hoax devices, with clocks attached and all that sort of thing. They found the people who had been doing it, and then the prosecutor told the bomb squad guy that there wasn't a law to deal with that sort of thing (which may well have been false, from my understanding, but, not a lawyer, not a MA resident anymore, etc, etc). So this guy convinced the legislature to pass a hoax device law, and now, when people do (as they do) make phony pipe bombs and call in bomb threats, there is a law! Hooray! Sadly, it's a very badly written law.

Around the same time as the Joe Previtera incident, Davis Square was cleared because of a Bomb Threat, which it turned out consisted of an empty cardboard box with some political slogans on it, left at the post office to be mailed to the Republican Campaign Headquarters (or perhaps the Bush/Cheney headquarters, I don't remember the details). The fellow was arrested, charged and brought to trial because the empty cardboard box was considered a hoax device.

Heck, at least the lite-brites had wires.

Thanks,
-V.

#61 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:47 PM:

Here in San Francisco, we have bomb scares that closes down the Muni and BART approximately once every two or three months. This is inconvenient for us--but almost always it turns out to be nothing at all. Once somebody left a bag of groceries and laundry detergent too close to City Hall. Should the person who accidently put down and left their Tide with Bleach sitting in a plastic bag on a street corner be slammed with "In a post 9-11 world, they should have known better"? No, of course not. It's patently silly. Once the threat has been determined to be non-existent, everyone goes about their business. The police don't arrest somebody because of a false alarm (generally); they stand down and tell everyone, "Nothing to worry about. False alarm."

Boston did not do that. If any hoax has been perpetuated, it's been by passing on false information to the public about the nature of the suspected threat. It's been about fomenting a witchhunt.

In this country, we're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. We're not supposed to be scapegoats for somebody else's incipient hysteria and fear-mongering. Any time our government makes an error and then turns on us, manufacturing ill intent when there was none, they've failed to not only protect us from terrorists and tyrants, they've joined the ranks.

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:47 PM:

Photo: Not rocket scientists.

Talk about timely news -- Chertoff has just announced new security grants for American cities. Note the allocations.

Just when you thought the Boston story couldn't get any stupider, a couple of guys who couldn't make ice cubes without consulting a recipe come up with the "This is the fault of the liberals at Turner" meme. There's no use arguing with them, since their notions of "liberals" are significantly less realistic than a Terrance and Phillip cartoon.

I remain fond of the first page of Seanbaby's The nation that freaked out. I take no responsibility for the second page.

#63 ::: Erin Underwood ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 01:56 PM:

As a Bostonian, I like my city safe. I'd rather not get blown up on my way to the office since it makes for a rather crappy work day to arrive in 300 pieces. Then again, considering the nasty tempers of the other drivers on the road and the lack of street signs, any commute within the immediate area is always a challenge with or without Mooninites hanging from the bridges. ;-)

I think the initial response of checking into the first mysterious object report should have been taken very seriously. Any other response would have been inappropriate. After a cursory inspection of the object, I think the LED sign could have easily been determined to be nothing dangerous or explosive. As more reports were made, I think any logical person could have ascertained that this was some kind of marketing gimmick or promotion. It would have helped if the character was recognizable by the people investigating, spotting, or reporting the LED signs. All in all, the response was overkill since the bomb squad did not need to check out each and every unit found.

Once the news got a hold of the story, panic ensued. This is a reasonable response since the unofficial tag line for Fox News in Boston is "IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS!" However, to be fair, it wasn’t just Fox News that aired bomb scare reports – this was done by ALL of the stations and the information was released by the POLICE. If it wasn’t released by the police, they should have been on the air calming people’s nerves by denying the bomb scare reports.

This is not to say that Turner should be cleared from any wrong doing, nor am I implying that the marketing guy and the artist should be let go without being reprimanded. Here’s the thing, this was a dumb ad campaign. It was poorly designed, poorly planned, poorly implemented, and poorly promoted. Most people who saw those little signs had no idea what they referred to. Who would even think that a lit LED figure flipping the bird would have anything to do with children? This is a case of bad judgment. No wonder the show is failing, especially with that kind of promotion!

Who hires these people? Why do they think anyone would even care? Why would they think this was a good promotion since it went UNNOTICED in nearly every city? Or maybe that’s the key – only one city had to notice; only one city had to put the signs in the spotlight.

Maybe this was EXACTLY the type of response the client wanted since now we all know that there is a really bad carton show called “Aqua Teens” on the Cartoon Network. If Boston hadn’t noticed the LED figures, Turner’s money would have been wasted. The Boston police may have spent a million dollars investigating the signs, but I’d guarantee you that the Cartoon Network has seen a jump in ratings on that formerly obscure cartoon show.

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:02 PM:

Erin Underwood 63: Who would even think that a lit LED figure flipping the bird would have anything to do with children?

Um...WHAT? Two words: Adult Swim.

#65 ::: Jennifer Pelland ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Xopher - I think this proves that even with all the publicity this has been getting, it's still a failed advertising campaign.

#66 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:14 PM:

If those three hours Turner waited to call don't represent their organization frantically checking the legal situation, getting their ducks in a row, and formulating a response, I'll eat one of my hats. I don't think we can blame Turner for not wanting to jump unprepared into the kind of mess that had blown up in Boston. I wouldn't have done it either.

#67 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:16 PM:

I think the advertising campaign was pretty stupid too. The issue here is that the Boston Police seem to think that the advertising campaign was criminal. If they didn't get permission to put up the signs, then they should be charged for that, not terrorism. If they did get permission, then it's hard to avoid the notion they're being charged solely to justify the reactions of Boston officials.

#68 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:18 PM:

I think the 'THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS' political response came mostly from the assumption that the faux pipe bombs had something to do with the lite brites.

But once they realized the faux pipe bombs had nothing to do with the lite brites... Feh.

Btw, having read the 64 comments so far, I obviously do think that there's a big difference between a city that had an actual trauma happen to it and a city that watched in dismay while awful things happened to other cities. I have a whimsical kind of fondness for the idea that Boston (particularly the polticians) may have some weird version of survivor's guilt. None of which, I hasten to add, means that the response was proportionate or reasonable.

Nor is the Boston Police Department any good. I focus mostly on the rate of solving murders, when I say that, but the Previtera case is a great example of the problem. (And THAT problem, of using terrorism as an excuse for authoritarian crackdowns, is (obviously) nationwide.)

#69 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:19 PM:

Vardibidian @ 60

Even if the devices were not placed with the initial intent of being bombs, there are three other factors:

First, as someone partially posted earlier, there was another bomb threat simultaneous with this one () which made the emergency officials wonder if the cartoon devices were related and intended as a ditraction. This falls, at some level, under the same rule as the school or prank-calling 911, that the devices pull resources from where they were needed.

Second, as Pelland and I posted, Turner (or Intensive, its marketing company) was instructing those in the know locally NOT to assist or inform the authorities. At that point, knowing your devices are a problem and passively letting them remain a problem you are hoaxing.

Third, I very much wonder if the reason the devices were suddenly positioned differently in Boston was a non-admitted ploy by the marketers to provoke this kind of reaction to gain a larger buzz.

Again, who called in the locations to the police department approx 20 minutes apart over a three hour period?

Also, at their deposition the two hangers held a "press conference" where they refused to talk about anything except "perfect hair", suspected to be a reference to another cartoon channel show.

#70 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:22 PM:

Jennifer, it could equally prove that Boston is as deadly un-hip as its defenders keep saying it is.

WHY are people saying ATHF is a "failing show?" It's not Heroes, certainly, but it's on at midnight Sundays on a cable network often exiled to the digital band. It's watched by two out of three viewers at my house (I go to bed earlier, thank you), but then we're a bunch of SF and pop-culture geeks.

I have no idea where the Mooninites in Seattle were placed (except for a mural ad on a brick building on Third), and have seen no verifiable, concrete, evidence that Boston was unique in having them attached to pieces of transportation infrastructure.

#71 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:27 PM:

Wait, what?

Pedantic Peasant, I was under the impression that the two artists/guerilla guys had in fact told the police the location(s) of the lite brites, somewhere around noonish. Am I incorrect?

#72 ::: Jennifer Pelland ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Jennifer, it could equally prove that Boston is as deadly un-hip as its defenders keep saying it is.

Eh. I tried watching ATHF and didn't find it funny. I guess I'm deadly un-hip and have thus proven your point.

I have no idea where the Mooninites in Seattle were placed (except for a mural ad on a brick building on Third), and have seen no verifiable, concrete, evidence that Boston was unique in having them attached to pieces of transportation infrastructure.

That's why I posted a link to a Boston Globe article in my initial reply--so I wouldn't simply be repeating hearsay.

#73 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:37 PM:

#69:First, as someone partially posted earlier, there was another bomb threat simultaneous with this one () which made the emergency officials wonder if the cartoon devices were related and intended as a ditraction. This falls, at some level, under the same rule as the school or prank-calling 911, that the devices pull resources from where they were needed.

Are you saying that Turner is responsible for terrorism because they placed signs for their ad campaign several weeks before an actual hoax terrorist incident occurred in Boston? It still boils down to holding them responsible for an uproar which should never have happened, and did not in 9 of the 10 cities where they were placed.

It seems to me based on the first Herald article about the pipe bombs, that the police had that sorted out fairly quickly and recognized that it had nothing to do with the LED displays. According to the first Herald article I saw about this, the police identified, but not charged someone. So, it should have been easy for them to figure out that the LED signs were a whole other thing (since they determined that a different set of people were responsible for those fairly quickly too).

I find it interesting that no one mentioned the fake pipe bombs, at the time, as an aggravating fact. All we heard about, at the time, were LED signs. One would think that as long as they were going to tell us about "suspicious devices," they would tell us about a device that actually was suspicious. It verges into farce to think that they were accusing Turner of planting fake pipe bombs but at no point ever mentioning it when they were so free with every other bit of potentially scary information they could get their hands on.

Perhaps I'm being cynical, but this looks like a convenient bit of face saving to me. Having said that, I do wish they had handled the LED signs with the same calm that they handled the fake pipe bombs. There was nothing to stop them from doing that.

#74 ::: Susan Kitchens ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Hoax News
We distort. You deride.

#75 ::: Satori ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:48 PM:

You have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Just over 4,000 people died five years in terrorist attacks and that has the other 300 odd million of them thinking that their chances of dying in a terrorist attack even rivals that of being killed in a car crash (1 in 6,000) or plane crash (1 in 100,000). A lightning bolt (1 in 1.7 million) has better odds.

But, I see the reaction as typical. The media and government has used fear constantly in its messages to us, and it's worked. Exactly what Bin Laden was looking for, and the reason it's called "terrorism."

Being from that "other" city hit on Sept. 11 (D.C.), we've learned that there is a difference between vigilance and hysteria. At least I like to think most of us have.

#76 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:49 PM:

"Who would even think that a lit LED figure flipping the bird would have anything to do with children? This is a case of bad judgment. No wonder the show is failing, especially with that kind of promotion!"

ATHF is neither failing nor a children's show.

I have no particular expertise in marketing so it's difficult to me to assess the cost of the stunt, though at a guess I'd expect it's somewhere around $1 million US to buy the City of Boston some new diapers, plus a few thousand to pay the guys who made and placed the signs.

It's also difficult for me to assess the value of the campaign, but I can say this much: I love the show, and watched the first four seasons on DVDs that I'd borrowed or been given as gifts. I'd mostly forgotten about the show, though. Now I'm aware that it's on again and running new episodes and there's a movie coming soon. Further, a week ago maybe one guy in five here at the office knew who the Mooninites were. Today, every last one does, and the DVDs are being eagerly passed around.

#77 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Announcement: We're about to find out how much traffic you get when you're featured on Technorati Buzz TV.

#78 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Since my daily quota has been extended, just wanted to post some quotes from someone else's link

Headline: Phony threat escalated real danger in hoax

Phone threat? Since when is a LiteBrite a threat of any kind?

In reference to the two fake pipe bombs, they were called in on the same day: The "bomb call surfaced in the middle of a coordinated hoax."

"hoax"??? WTF? It was coordinated SPAM at best. No one ever tried to pass of the litebrites as bombs.

Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis said that the chorus of law enforcement agencies had no choice but to assume that gag devices had been systematically planted all over town as a distraction for “real” ones that had also been placed.

"had no choice"? That's an interesting spin on things. Turner made them do it.

The whole article is so much ass-kissing that the guy who wrote it should declare "human bidet" on his tax return this year. A complete government apologist, and a fing coward.

#79 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:11 PM:

Since the right wing media here in Boston seems to be pushing the "remember Logan Airport at 9/11" meme, we need to remember one Virginia Buckingham - the Republican political hack without managerial experience who was in charge of Massport (i.e. Logan Airport) on 9/11/2001. After her contract was bought out (for some reason I don't understand she couldn't be fired) she surfaced a year or so later as a columnist for the Herald. I expect to read much harrumphing from her next week.

#80 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:15 PM:

Ditto about the "failed show" spin. ATHF is by no means a failing show. Multiple seasons, DVDs in multiple printings, movie coming out--that isn't failing by any rubric I know of.

I also have a hard time accepting the argument that "the panic in Boston proves that this was a dumb ad campaign." Far as I can tell, Boston's reaction was the exception, not the rule, to an ad campaign carried out in some [thinks quick, counts on fingers] 10 cities? is that right, ten? So I have a hard time believing that anything that went down in Boston some three weeks into the campaign proves anything about the quality of the ad campaign.

Should Boston's current mayor win his reelection bid, I too will be disappointed. Unfortunately, I won't know exactly who to be disappointed with, because they don't later tell you exactly which citizens voted for the idiot. So I'll have to say, "Damn you, the greater portion of Boston's voters, whoever you are!" and keep it kind of impersonal that way.

#81 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Oh, and, an extra apathetic "meh" to the "how can this be for children?!" meme. I suspect the dynamics of this incident are influenced by the same misapprehension that dogs adult comic books: "It's got cartoony pictures! How dare you depict adult situations and obscenity with cartoony pictures?! Cartoony pictures are only ever for kids!"

There's a reason why the very first white-text-on-black-screen bump when Adult Swim starts up for the night says something like The following programming contains [stuff] that may be unsuitable for those under the age of [arbitrary age number]. That reason is, in my opinion, not because parents need to be warned that midnight programming might be too adult for the pre-teens. No. It is--again, this is just my opinion here, but I think it's a good one--it's because when faced with cartoony pictures, there are certain adults among us who immediately think, "Kid stuff!" So they have to be told, "No, you probably don't want your kid watching Harvey Birdman (Atty@law) at least until you've talked to them about sex, drugs, TEH GAY, and That Thing That I Sent You, About Which, Did You Get It? That regardless of Harvey's existence as a cartoon character rather than a live actor."

#82 ::: Greg Laden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:25 PM:

Personally I'm blaming
this
all on George Bush.

#83 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:26 PM:

For all we know, Boston might have been the only city willing to play it like a bomb scare in order to promote the program in the national news. You simply can't buy that kind of advertising where almost every media outlet is covering the story. Not even for the million that Turner might end up paying. In fact, for all we know, the whole scare might have beeh choreographed with the payment made in the form of a fine so it would fly clean through the media. Otherwise, if there was a noticeable payoff to an individual, heads would have surely rolled and the backlash would have hurt the politicians, the cartoon program, and the programs' executives.

#84 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:57 PM:

Just as a point of interest, when cities do their training and senario testing, one of the things that happens is spurious data is fed into the system to see if those in charge can weed out what pertains to the attack, and what is dross.

The Boston Officals just failed that test.

As for the language of "hoax" and "failed show," these are spin words gaged to fire up the local populace into not firing the officials using them for gross incompetance.

#85 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:06 PM:

I think this deserves a new verse for "The Mad Gardener's Song":

He thought he saw an IED which made him quake with fright.
He looked again and saw it was a lite-brite Mooninite.
"A hoax!" he croaks,
"Lock up those folks!"
His drawers befouled with shite.

#86 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:10 PM:

I, for one, welcome my new LiteBrite overlords.

#87 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:12 PM:

Note: when I ask for documentation about what happened in cities-not-Boston, I am hesitant to accept information from Boston media which is not backed up from local sources.

I may be more than a little tender about Security Theater right now. I started feeling substantially more insecure when I learned that the Army no longer views past gang activity as a bar to enlistment, and has discontinued the gang related activities prevention program at Fort Lewis.

#88 ::: Erin Underwood ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:18 PM:

80: Nikki, I think you have confused two points that I made and blended them together. The point I made didn't site the panic in Boston as the reason for the ad campaign being dumb.

From a marketing perspective, yes, the ad campaign is dumb since most of the people seeing the signs had no idea what the signs were advertising. The brand image is weak at best and therefore doesn't correlate to a strong ad campaign.

However, once the bomb scare was made and the news began to promote the ad for Turner, it then became a good campaign since thousands, if not millions, of people like me who couldn't care less about Aqua Teen now know more than they EVER wanted to know about the show. The name Aqua Teen has been imprinted on me and that LED sign is now a permanent association to the show.

In fact, it is Boston's panic that gave the campaign its impact. Without the panic no one would have noticed or cared. Thank God someone made those phone calls that alerted the police about the suspicious objects!

Still, I don’t think the ad was well done or well designed. If there was no panic the ad would have bombed - no pun intended.

#89 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:18 PM:

But if they're really Mooninites, shouldn't they be showing their keisters?

[#85: Kevin -- good one]

#90 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:27 PM:

Pedantic Peasant (69):

"Again, who called in the locations to the police department approx 20 minutes apart over a three hour period?"
Do we have anything but the BPD's word that this happened? Have we listened to the tapes?

I'm not usually this hardnosed about evidence, but this is the same department that dragged Previtera off to jail when both ends of the wires tied to his wrists were visible, and started calling the ad campaign a deliberate hoax when its perpetrator was still unknown, and thus its perpetrator's intent was unknown.

#91 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:41 PM:

One reason we can feel good about laughing at Boston's officials panicking and overreacting is that at least this time when incompetent officials panicked, no innocent bystanders got killed.

#92 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 04:53 PM:

#68: I obviously do think that there's a big difference between a city that had an actual trauma happen to it and a city that watched in dismay while awful things happened to other cities. I have a whimsical kind of fondness for the idea that Boston (particularly the polticians) may have some weird version of survivor's guilt.

Could we please not play the "My Pain Is Bigger Than Your Pain" game, at least not on this?

As far as Boston having no "actual trauma" on 9/11, I would like to politely point out that the two planes that left here had a lot of local people on them -- friends, coworkers, neighbors. I myself put a coworker onto Flight 11 that morning. A family that lived a few blocks away from me died. And yeah, I lost a few friends in NYC that day too, just to round things out.

So I guess I think it might be a little wacky to suggest that no "actual trauma" happened to us. Yes, the nature of it and the scope of it was vastly different from NYC and DC, but it was still not non-existent. I have a whimsical fondness for the idea that we should be human enough to care about people no matter what city (or country) they live in, to feel hurt when they are hurt, and to respect the experiences of other people without regard to how they measure up to our own.

Instead of assuming that Boston politicians are acting out of "weird guilt", maybe it'd be more obvious to suggest instead that it was just another case of entrenched cranio-rectal impaction, an oh-so-common affliction in politicians across the globe.

#93 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 05:58 PM:

E. Underwood @90:
From a marketing perspective, yes, the ad campaign is dumb since most of the people seeing the signs had no idea what the signs were advertising. The brand image is weak at best and therefore doesn't correlate to a strong ad campaign.

I disagree. The brand image is very strong (the mooninites especially, perhaps moreso than the "core" characters) among the target audience -- nonviewers (like myself) in the target recognize them, and viewers who aren't reliable rerun-watchers not only recognize them, but get stoked for the (recently begun) "season" of new episodes. I imagine this campaign was VERY cheap, was seen by EXACTLY who they wanted to see it, and would have been an excellent marketing expenditure had the circus never happened. A superbowl buy, or a big NYC billboard with Frylock on it or [new athf] (white-on-black letters), would have been too much money, going to too many eyes that simply don't and never will care.

Sure, EVERYONE knows what Mooninites are now, but I suspect that pretty much everyone with the inclination to watch more than ninety seconds of the show already watched it, and this won't change anything.

I, for one, can't wait to see the bumper crop of [as] bumpers we get out of this...

#94 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 06:52 PM:

I live in Houston, where someone on a local mailing list claims to have grabbed 2 of the things for eventual sale on eBay. Notable:
1) This person also says he checked with the police after the Boston fiasco got big, and was told that as long as the item was on public property (which it was), it fell under the same "abandoned property" regulation as spam signs -- free for the taking to anyone, and you can do whatever you like with them afterwards.
2) No one else has seen any of them here. Speculation is that either the city's spam-sign crew got all the rest, or that any others were similarly grabbed before anyone else spotted them.

More globally, I think there's a good case to be made that a significant percentage of the US population is suffering from something remarkably similar to PTSD as a result of the 9/11 attacks... and that our leaders political and otherwise, rather than doing anything to help, are cynically and callously encouraging this because it's useful for their own agendae.

#95 ::: ksgreer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Am I the only one wondering about the fact that it keeps getting repeated "these were put up in X number of other cities and no one noticed"? Because if I were doing an advertising campaign, that'd be the very last thing I'd want. I'd be saying, "time for Plan B, because even bad press is better press than none at all."

Consider the players. Turner's called Fox News the propaganda mouthpiece of the White House; Fox News doesn't like Turner much, either. It'd be a pretty savvy plan -- and marketings tend to cultivate that skill, so I don't think this is overestimating them -- if a cynical one, to suggest: why not use Fox's known paranoia to Turner's benefit?

Who's to say that the "people calling in with a panic" weren't from Turner, itself? It wouldn't be the first time a company has created an "anti-campaign" knowing it'd increase sales. (See also: The Tingler and its ilk.) I'd have been more surprised if Fox News had ignored the entire blinky-storm in a teapot. Of course Fox News didn't hesitate to jump: look, an "opening" on their nemesis. Here's proof Turner has no concern for people's safety or peace of mind. Milk it for all it's worth, boys!

The BPD might've calmed down after the first startled reaction. The marketing-me says that's when a few more plants call Fox News to cry OMG! terrorism!, and charge the BPD is doing nothing! Mass hysteria (err, no pun intended) feeds on itself, and the BPD got suckered: with Fox News brewing blinky-box tea at record speed, the BPD ended up stumbling overboard, blinded by the glare of national teapot attention.

Underneath it all: who gains? Turner, all the way.

To the rest of the country, his Network's thumbing its nose at The Man (an action Americans are known to adore), tweaking Boston (associated throughout the country with Those Stuffy Puritans), and he even has the "grace" to reimburse BPD for its naive overreactions. So what if that naivete is quite possibly the very thing Turner Broadcasting easily manipulated to its own ends?

Even more, look at the medium of the message: lite-brights! Classic remnant of a Gen-X childhood, a medium equally ridiculous, charming, and nostalgic. The realization hit me when I heard the two guys behind it had announced at their first press conference that they'd only field questions about "eighties big hair." If that's not a nod to the Gen X'ers, a way to say, "hey, check us cracking on the clueless Boomers, see them completely miss the joke," then I don't know what else is.

BPD loses, Fox loses, Turner pwnz them all.

#96 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:12 PM:

#95 Am I the only one wondering about the fact that it keeps getting repeated "these were put up in X number of other cities and no one noticed"?

Not so much "No one noticed" as "No one called the bomb squad."

#97 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:14 PM:

Suzanne 92: That wasn't the point. The point was, 9/11 trauma is no excuse for alarmist wackoness, still less for fascist bullydom. And for a Bostonian—or anyone, including another New Yorker—to claim that New York didn't have that overblown reaction because we just don't understand the pain of 9/11 is patently absurd.

#98 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:17 PM:

I live in Austin, where the objects were also deployed; if anyone noticed before the day it hit the fan in Boston, they forgot to print anything about it in a venue where I might notice. That evening, it showed up as an item on the ten o'clock news just before the weather; the general tone was of Viewing With Alarm (but not panic), and it seems the local authorities declined to get into a major tither--the reporting was more panicky than the reaction. One of the blinkies had been right next to a Prominent Downtown Independent Cinema, so I'm sure it's not like nobody saw it.

#99 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:18 PM:

Oh, and the local paper's reportage yesterday was on page 13 or the equivalent, buried below the fold.

#100 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:29 PM:

OK, so let me get this straight. First the bomb squad blew up this possibly-dirty-or-biochem-bomb, then they put it back together and found it was harmless? WTF?

#101 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:32 PM:

Satori at #75 says "Just over 4,000 people died five years [ago?] in terrorist attacks"

It was actually just under 3,000 people overall. I'm glad you said "people", though, because it's upsetting to see how often the victims are all claimed to be "Americans", when part of the impact at the time was that so many countries citizens were involved.

Slightly Related: It was disturbing lately to hear on the radio a recent song which has a chorus about there being 3 billion people in the world, when that figure comes from the 1960s. Unfortunately, the musician's site doesn't provide a way to get in contact with him and say "it's six billion now". The music otherwise seems quite enjoyable.

#102 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:37 PM:

Oh, hm.

Sorry, Suzanne-- I'm from Boston myself (well, Dedham, but currently live in West Roxbury), so I was pretty much trying to exude wry-sliding-towards-dark humor.

Don't mean to minimize people's losses, yours included.

#103 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:51 PM:

I saw the "devices discovered in Boston, police shut down highways" headline on Google News as I browsed past, and thought, "I wonder if this is outrageous activity to get publicity for a failing regime.”

And lo, it was!

#104 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Re mine at #101 Missing link for number of September 11 victims (tho' there are many other links)
observer.guardian.co.uk/waronterrorism/story/0,,776451,00.html

#105 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 08:03 PM:

If I wanted to hide a IED in the Boston subway, I'd carefully disguise it as rat bait box. They're everywhere, are big enough to hold sufficient explosive to cause real damage, and are probably automatically dismissed by responders because they've been called to look at them so many times. Modern technology makes detonator timers almost invisibly small -- the size of a watch battery.

#106 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 08:17 PM:

A few years ago someone noticed someone walk into the woods with a metal box, and walk out without it. A 911 call was made, and the Mass state police bomb squad responded. The box was chained to a tree, with a big antenna on it. On the box was a note describing it's use, and a phone number of someone who was at their phone for the duration of the box's deployment -- just in case.
The state police didn't explode the box,but they threatened to do if they ever saw the box again. The newspaper photo carefully positioned the box so that the labeling wasn't visible.

The box's purpose? It is a radio transmitter that is used in "fox hunting" -- searching for hidden radio transmitters as search and rescue training.

#107 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:07 PM:

I'm struck by Jim's point (91): all that distinguishes this official overreaction from other such occasions, besides its risibility, is that no one got killed. All the problems that made this episode so ridiculous are still there, and are still just as potentially lethal.

Does anyone really want to argue that the Boston police acted reasonably, in accordance with well-thought-out policies and up-to-date training? On top of that, their reaction to suspecting that they'd pulled a stupid maneuver was to keep doing the same thing, only harder, with a lot of tough talk thrown in. That's a very bad sign. The mayor's connivance means they'll learn nothing from this. There's obviously a lot they need to learn.

Go back and look at the picture of Joe Previtera. You can see through that black fabric. He's wearing white shorts and a knit shirt. There are no explosives strapped to his body. I doubt it's hard to see that the bog-standard stereo speaker wires tied to his wrists go nowhere. And as the news story says, the only "disturbing the peace" that happened was the crowd of gawking spectators that gathered once the police made their move -- which proves the police knew perfectly well that there was no bomb, since otherwise they'd have cleared the area. They nevertheless took Previtera into custody, slapped him with several bogus charges, and demanded $10,000 bail.

On videos taken at the time and location of Victoria Snelgrove's death, there are no signs of the supposedly riotous conditions the police claim existed when they incompetently fired pepper gas projectiles directly into a crowd of Red Sox fans, killing Snelgrove, an inoffensive student who was celebrating the Red Sox victory over the Yankees.

Previtera and Snelgrove are/were both white, and had clear-cut cases with multiple witnesses and photographic evidence. You know there have to be lots of other cases where the police have gotten away with crap that's as bad or worse.

The Boston police have become a self-confidently stupid, pugnacious organization that thinks it's entitled to lie and to misuse the law. Having the mayor back up their folly just guarantees there'll be more of it. There is no reason to believe that next time they won't maim or kill people, or wreck the lives of innocent citizens who can't so easily disprove a lie.

The important point is not whether Turner's promo campaign was a good idea. The point is that Boston has a serious problem with its police force that is not being addressed.

#108 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:16 PM:

#105: You don't need to "disguise" it. All you need to do is push it under the piles of garbage.

I was at Sullivan Station today. You know, the place where the object was found. The piles of garbage at the platform ends are still there, not to mention the trash and tires on the commuter rail track sidings just over the fence.

I'm amazed they saw the damn thing at all.

#109 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:48 PM:

#107:Does anyone really want to argue that the Boston police acted reasonably, in accordance with well-thought-out policies and up-to-date training?

I wouldn't. However, Homeland Security Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman says Boston officials coordinated a "seamless" response to the scare.

The most charitable interpretation I can come up with is that he meant if there had been an actual terrorist incident, the Boston officials would have been doing the correct things. You know, sort of like, "Gee, if we had been playing baseball rather than soccer, it would have been ok to touch the ball with our hands."

#110 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:53 PM:

if there had been an actual terrorist incident, the Boston officials would have been doing the correct things. You know, sort of like, "Gee, if we had been playing baseball rather than soccer, it would have been ok to touch the ball with our hands."

Now I feel better.

Not.

#111 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 09:57 PM:

But wires sticking out of your clothes? I rather doubt it.

Unless you're working in an environment sensitive to static electricity and have to be dragging a chain over the floor permanently...

Bomb hoaxes were what the 6th graders used to phone in at school when they wanted to avoid an examination. (After the second of those, the principal and the police had enough of it and put the fear of God into the kids responsible.)

#112 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:04 PM:

Update on the Mooninite being auctioned off on eBay:

The auction has been removed.

#113 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:07 PM:

Oh ... do you know what I think when I see someone on a city street with wires sticking out of his clothes?

"Sucka's listening to his iPod."

#115 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:36 PM:

#97 Xopher: That wasn't the point. The point was, 9/11 trauma is no excuse for alarmist wackoness, still less for fascist bullydom. And for a Bostonian—or anyone, including another New Yorker—to claim that New York didn't have that overblown reaction because we just don't understand the pain of 9/11 is patently absurd.

Oh, I entirely agree with you. (I missed anyone claiming that NY didn't understand 9/11, but I'm unhappily willing to believe that someone would indeed say such a thing.)

*My* point was not in contradiction to that, but to the implication that Boston had no actual trauma and that "we" (by which I mean some very specific idiots in Boston who are doing a good job of making the whole state look bad) do the stupid, FUDist things we do out of weird survivor guilt.

However, #102 Kate, don't worry about it. It's a bit of a hot button for me -- I had a coworker from NYC who used to rant on and on about how his pain from 9/11 was much more special than anyone else's and that any horror or grief the rest of us expressed over the events of that day were therefore shallow, phony, and an affront to him. Just as I don't think 9/11 should be used as an excuse to tear apart our constitution or to justify our own destructive rampages, I don't think on a personal level that it (or any tragedy of any magnitude) should be used as a measurement of worth to the extent that it undermines our ability to be compassionate to the experiences of others.

And really, that's all I was trying to say. I suppose I'm being hopelessly tangential, yet again.

#116 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:37 PM:

JKRichard, that there's a triumph of capitalism.

#117 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:34 PM:

I'm astonished that none of the inevitable Mooninite t-shirts use the caption "SOMEBODY SET US UP THE BOMB." How is this possible? C'mon, you know you'd buy one too.

Is there anybody out there who'll make some for us?

#118 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:40 PM:

JESR@87: the Army what? I know they've been "relaxing" "standards" for some time now (at least in most locations -- I know someone foolish enough to volunteer who was washed about, reportedly by a sergeant who was washing out way over the average %age of recruits), but ignoring gang activity seems seriously stupid. Are they making some dumbass attempt to recruit people they think will be more willing to behave brutally?

#119 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 11:46 PM:

CHip, I've been hearing reports for some time now of gang graffiti showing up on walls in Baghdad.

#121 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 12:55 AM:

Okay, I've (mostly) stayed out of this, partly because I'm not in the US and therefore not under the same conditions as the majority of folks in either of the comment threads. Another part is because I can see the heads of government in various cities around Australia pulling something similar if ever such a marketing campaign were tried here (although the response of the population would be modulated by a different temperament). However, I will comment on the success of the marketing campaign which was associated.

It succeeded beyond the promoter's wildest dreams. Inside of two days, I have heard about, and grown curious about a television show which I hadn't even known existed. I've learned when it runs and on which channel, what other people think of it, whether it's available on DVD, that it's run into multiple seasons, and that there's going to be a movie. I know more about this show than I do about most shows on Australian television. I have no doubt there are other folks in the Aussie part of the blogosphere besides myself who are now slightly curious about the show, and who would be interested in seeing at least one or two episodes, just to get an idea of what the heck the Bostonian officials got their knickers in a knot about.

That is one heck of a successful marketing campaign.

#122 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 12:57 AM:

I googled "US Army Gangs" and got a lot of hits, most of which mentioned Ft. Lewis, but none, unfortunately, were the story in The Olympian which discussed the reassignment of the guy who had been the Gang Activity Diversion Specialist. I did, however, get too many hits which mentioned a lowering of the enlistment standards for prior arrests, gang involvement, and gang related tattoos .

This includes both criminal and political gangs; the latter disturbs me equally with the former. Before the old, higher standards were put in place, soldiers with gang connections brought a lot of their compatriots to near-base housing (there was a gang related shooting in the apartments across the road last Saturday, with one death); soldiers with skinhead and other Neonazi ties have been... well, Timothy McVey comes to mind, but there were three Rangers arrested in my neighborhood (again, since the beginning of 2007) for a racially based assault in a sports bar.

I've lived near the Fort all my life. During the draft era, there were always problem soldiers, in proportion to the criminality of post-adolescent males in general. The all volunteer army seems to draw a more organized kind of problem. And I'd really rather people were paying attention to the ways in which Security Theater and the support our troops mentality are creating less safety on the home front.

(The usual disclaimers apply: I am no more saying all soldiers are inherently criminal than I am saying that all 18-22 year old males are.)

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 02:22 AM:

Looking at the situation on 9/11 in Boston and NYC, there's an obvious difference.

Both cities lost people.

Boston wasn't attacked, and didn't have to respond to anything as a city. There wasn't the same sense of collective effort to cope with the immediate effects.

That sense of collective effort is one of the things which distinguishes an army, or a police force, from a gang.

#124 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 03:30 AM:

Mrfl. Invoking 9/11 has become basically useless for me. When people tell me I should know better, as did a security guard in Dallas who tried to take my camera for taking pictures on top of the Chase Building: "I'm going to have to ask you to erase your memory card, Miss. It's security--since 9/11 we can't let people take pictures of these strategically important palm trees in our sky lobby where we host wedding receptions weekly." (Okay, he didn't say THAT, but he did bring up 9/11--patently stupid since I'd taken a slew of pictures on previous occasions SINCE 9/11 and he was the first guard to complain. He also threatened to sic Dallas police on me if I didn't comply.)

So now, whenever somebody invokes it, I hear Charlie Brown's teacher mumble-mumble-mumbling away, and "In a post 9/11 world, you should know better," always manages to turn into "In a post 9/11 world, the people representing me in government have all completely gone insane...." and "Oh, yeah, in a post 9/11 world, I will be presumed guilty until proven innocent."

Yeah. I feel safer.

#125 ::: Cathy Krusberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 08:56 AM:

Not wanting to be left in the dust, Philadelphia is making up for lost time in condemning the Err lightboards that appeared in its fair city.

"We think it was a stupid, regrettable, irresponsible stunt by Turner," said Joe Grace, Mayor Street's spokesman. "We do not take kindly to it."

Grace said the city responded quickly. But it appears the devices were placed in Philadelphia and nine other cities weeks ago without causing much of a fuss until Boston law-enforcement officials spotted them Wednesday.

Anybody want to place bets on how long it will take the other eight cities to get into the act?

#126 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 09:39 AM:

#125: I don't like that Boston is the laughingstock of the nation. But I'd hoped that, at least, it would discourage other cities from acting stupid. *sigh*

(Of course, I also want the T to run round the clock. Oh, and a pony.)

#127 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 10:08 AM:

So, did the Boston government panic or not.

It spent a million dollars in police overtime and other expenses, and it did this in how much time.

I know the apologists want to tell me that the government identified it as a false alarm and returned to normal in short order. To quote the arse kissing op ed, "the police weren’t quite as punk’d as all those “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” hipsters out there in the blogosphere would lead you to believe".

So, did they overreact or not?

Thing is the government, its defenders, and the sheep who bleet in their direction all suffer from one particular problem. They want it both ways.

To paraphrase their points:

(1) The city response was completely appropriate. They didn't know if it was a bomb. They did whta they were supposed to do. They quickly identified it as a bomb and called it a false alarm. The only reason there was panic is because the stupid media was fanning the flames.

(2) My gawd this "hoax" cost a million dollars, shut down the city, stranded motorists, and caused concern throughout the nation.

Uh. Hello? You're telling me every time someone calls in a bomb, it will take a minimum of (Dr. Evil) ONE MILLION DOLLARS (/Dr. Evil) to figure out its a false alarm?

ARE YOU FRICKEN KIDDING ME?

How the hell did Boston spend a million dollars in half an hour? Those who SWEAR the city detected the false alarm quickly, you get half an hour.

Any effort beyond that point shows incompetance.

The word should have been to immediately stand down. If the system is still grinding its way along thinking its a bomb after half an hour, then the system is INCOMPETENT.

Now, the problem is that I cannot for the life of me figure out how a city could spend a million dollars in half an hour. The newspaper articles say "overtime and other expenses". A million dollars of overtime in half an hour?

The only way I can explain a million dollars of expenses is that either (1) the response time was actually many, many hours before anyone had a clue what was going on, so maybe the overtime had some time to rack up or (2) someone is overcharging.

Either way, there is something wrong within the system.

#128 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 10:36 AM:

I think the "ONE MILLION DOLLARS!" is the mayor chanting "We want a settlement! We want a settlement!" and asking for Turner to pony up something they can easily pay for from petty cash. I note that the Chicago police are also getting in on the act.

I'm very thankful at the moment to live on the west coast, where the Los Angeles police department said they couldn't find any of the things while San Francisco, Portland and Seattle police said pretty much that they weren't going to bother and they had bigger fish to fry. Which is terribly sensible, because in cities with such a wired hipster populace, do you think even one of those is still up anywhere on the west coast, given what they're fetching on Ebay?

If Boston had even half a brain, rather than have the ones they took down sit around as evidence for whatever sham of a trial they come up with, they'd just auction them off.

#129 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 10:54 AM:

On 9/11, I spent all day calling about my friends in New York. And worrying.

I had no worries about my friends in Boston.

That's the difference.

#130 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 01:32 PM:

re:Greg@127: Exactly. Terrorists are a lot like bullies (possibly exactly like bullies) in that fear and panic is a reinforcement for their activities. My biggest problem with the execution of the response to the perceived threat (and not, say, the aftermath) is that the response is neither proportionate nor sustainable.

Blowing a million dollars and shutting down the city over a few LiteBrites is like dropping all your schoolbooks, flailing wildly, and screaming, "No, no, STOP!" when somebody accidentally bumps into you in the school hallway. Boston has just shown any terrorists who read the papers that the city can be stirred into an expensive panic quickly and easily.

And if I were a terrorist, the fact that the response wasn't sustainable would mean that all I'd have to do is put up LiteBrites every few weeks until the city, embarrassed and over budget, initiated the inevitable "adjustment of response policies". Then, once the police had their hands tied, THAT's when I'd start planning my ACTUAL bomb attack.

#131 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 02:30 PM:

Heard Bruce Schneier on NPR this morning, head-to-head with some fellow from Homeland Security.

I was being pretty humorless about it on the thread on Thursday, but have since realized that I was just in a generally pissy and stick-in-the-mud mood that day. Because now? I just had to laugh at the Homeland Security fellow.

Mainly this was because he said, ever-so-condescendingly, that you wouldn't find the situation funny if you were over 30 and had kids and a mortgage and real-life responsibilities to worry about.

This caused me to roll around on the floor (the floor for which, incidentally, I just sent in another mortgage payment) and actually howl with laughter, because it was just the most ridiculous, meaningless attempt to save face that I'd heard yet.

So this is just to say that I have finished taking things too personally, and would like to join the party, if you'll still have me.

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

if you'll still have me.

Come on in. The water's fine.

#133 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 03:15 PM:

This is an open question to anyone:

Seriously, how did they spend a million dollars in half an hour?

It just doesn't add up. And I'm left wondering how much of that money is padding and how much is pork and how much has anything to do with the real work of protecting a city.

#134 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 04:45 PM:

Greg, they must have billed for every PD salary during that time. This is, of course, seriously poor accounting, because they'd have been paying those salaries anyway, but I'm sure somebody has uttered the excuse "but what if there'd been a real whatever while we were off taking this seriously?" To which one can only reply, "How can you pay people in two places at once when they really should be nowhere at all?"

#135 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 05:10 PM:

joann, if that's the case, someone needs to explain to them the concept of "sunk cost". If they're getting paid no matter what, then their pay isn't part of the cost of some particular event.


#136 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Greg, I know from sunk cost (although I couldn't remember the word just now), you know it, and I bet they do too. It's just that it's the lazy man's way of arriving at figures that would otherwise be risibly small and take more time to arrive at than was taken up by the original incident. Anti-embarrassment serum, if you will. (I won't.)

#137 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 06:55 PM:

I'm left wondering how much of that money is padding and how much is pork...

As much as I've been a little uncomfortable about all the ragging on Boston as a whole...well, it is Boston we're talking about. It's padding and pork, almost all of it.

#138 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 07:08 PM:

Patrick Weekes beat me to the point I wanted to make: Silliness aside, the mayor and government of Boston have made their city a smidge more attractive to would-be terrorists.

I myself have never been a hardened criminal, but I've known ex-cons who were willing to talk about criminal concerns to help law-abiding people better protect themselves. One thing they agreed on is that easy nuisances help a lot - steal a car from a neighborhood full of cars on too-sensitive alarms, for instance, and your odds of success go up, because everyone's sick of the damn things and disregards them. Here the city government panicked as well as the writer of Speed 3 or Die Hard 4 might wish, and if I were seriously planning real harm, I'd think that a very useful feature for my scheme.

In my daydreams, someone at a press conference would accuse the mayor of being soft on terrorists, for just that reason.

#139 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 07:40 PM:

Okay, sonnets aren't my preferred form.

The L.E.D.s
(To: "The I.P.D." by Lian Tanner and Sue Edmonds)

I'll sing you all a song about a dangerous device
The latest kind of terroristic threat
That weapon of destruction they call an I.E.D.
Has recently been made more scary yet

(Chorus:) (It's got) L.E.D.s, some L.E.D.s,
And maybe it's not scaring you but it's alarming me
And every time you gripe about a loss of liberty
Remember that it's for security!

It looks like just a circuit board, it's flat and sort of square
Its width is fifteen inches, maybe higher
With a sinister appearance, 'cause like any kind of bomb
There's a battery behind it, and some wire
And some ...

They're up in San Francisco, and some in N.Y.C.,
And Washington, and other cities too
The people all ignore them, they just don't understand
Security like folks in Boston do
It's got ...

They said it's a promotion for some dumb TV show
A Lite-Brite with a cartoon critter on
But we spent a million dollars, and that only goes to prove
That somebody has set us up the bomb
With some ...

We aren't going to bother with the guy who set up pipes
With caps and wire, that's just a little joke
But the two guys with the Lite-Brites, we're gonna nail them hard
For trashing Boston with that blinking hoax
It's got ...

(Finish:) It's the D.H.S. and G. "Dubya" B.,
And maybe they're not scaring you but they're sure scaring me
And every time they take away a bit more liberty
They tell you that it's for security!

#140 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 09:02 PM:

Greg/joann/Greg @133-5: I think you've hit it on the head (you nailed it).

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 09:34 PM:

Caroline 131: If we'll still have you? Pfft! OF COURSE WE WILL.

Um. Speaking for myself, I mean. :-D

#142 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 11:18 AM:

I don't have the ambition to visit all of them, but this ebay Mooninite has some really nice big photos to look at. Almost as good as having the real thing (and how hard could these be to fake?).

#143 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 11:31 AM:

ksgreer (#95): They were discussing 70s hair styles, not 80s. Our TV was on when they were interviewed. The press was p-o'd that they weren't playing the game. If they'd been real murderers wearing black capes and had screamed about keeling all rich pipples, the MSNBC talking head would've purred all over them, instead of snipping, "I'll bet their parents are proud of them!" By god, young people today just don't know how to follow the script!

#144 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 02:01 PM:

Re #131: Someone accused Bruce Schneier of not being a serious, mortgage-paying type of guy?

#145 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 02:25 PM:

clew @ 144: Apparently. The question was, more or less, "Do you think we'll look back on this and laugh?" Bruce Schneier pointed out that it is already a joke, and the homeland security guy got sniffy and said "Well, it's a joke if you're under 30. It won't be funny to these people in 10 years because they'll have kids and a mortgage." It was not adequately explained why having kids and/or a mortgage makes you more likely to buy into security theater.

Xopher @ 141: Awww, thanks.

Greg London @ 132: *splashes* (Over at Pandagon last week, there was a joke about the Matriarchal Sauna, Heated Pool, and Omelet Bar. Since it's been cold here and is about to get much colder, I've decided I like the concept of blog commenting as a giant hot tub.)

#146 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 07:39 PM:

It was not adequately explained why having kids and/or a mortgage makes you more likely to buy into security theater.

"In ten years, we'll have more power in this country. And if they have a mortgage, we'll know where they live. And if they have kids, that gives us more leverage to use. We'll see who's laughing then."

(What was that line about feeling like a nutbar conspiracy theorist?)

#147 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 10:36 PM:

ethan: it is Boston we're talking about. It's padding and pork, almost all of it.

Care to substantiate that?

#148 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 11:06 PM:

CHip #147: Er...depends what you mean by substantiate. I can't prove it in this case, but Boston, like other long-established historically Catholic cities with deep-rooted mobster mentalities (Chicago and my own--very beloved, so I'm not judging--Providence come to mind), runs on corruption, nepotism, and bribery. So much so that it's pretty much taken for granted most of the time. Circumstantial evidence, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Sorry about the nesting doll construction of that one sentence, by the way.

#149 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 11:12 PM:

I was thinking the Big Dig

#150 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2007, 11:41 PM:

Erin - Argument clarification noted, thanks. Though it doesn't excuse my misreading you, but I should mention I've come across exactly that "panic means bad ad campaign" argument (that I thought I saw in your post) in my travels of blogs and LJs and such prior to this.

As to your actual point... is there any word on whether this was merely to be the first phase in a several-phase ad roll-out? If the ad campaign for the remade The Omen had been limited to the initial white-on-black "6-6-06" posters, and not followed by a more specific ads rolled out later on, it wouldn't have had much recognition factor either. I could see the Lite-Brite Mooninites being followed a month or so later by maybe billboards/posters with the same cartoon characters but then the date of the movie release, and so forth, a new detail each roll-out, piquing curiousity, until "ATHF THE MOVIE" is clear to everyone.

Had Boston not panicked, would there have been further phases in the ad campaign?

#151 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:26 AM:

Greg London #149: The Big Dig is a (the?) good example.

#152 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:53 PM:

Actually, the Big Dig is a really bad example if you're trying to claim city corruption; first, it was a state project, and second, what went wrong was mostly trusting Bechtel to do an honest job. There's little indication they paid off any politicos; they just did and billed what they wanted to. Yes, it might have been nice to pick someone else -- but general contractors who can managed such a project aren't common.

#153 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:45 AM:

Now there, CHip, don't you know there's a storyline to be maintained here? Big cities full of (Catholic!) immigrants = "mobster mentalities", also "corruption, nepotism, and bribery." I read all about it in comment #148.

Says so right here in the Readers' Digest Guide to Journalistic Cliches, next to "burly union members pushing pregnant women off sidewalks."

Certainly corruption, nepotism, bribery, and other epiphenomena of organized lawbreaking never occur in other parts of American society. Certainly not in, say, the energy industry, the credit card companies, the governments of Sunbelt states dominated by evangelicals. Or in the gigantic "outsourcing" trough created by the conquest of Iraq. No, the sins of corruption are peculiar to Papists in their Big City Machines. Remember, to quote comment #148, "Circumstantial evidence, but I'm pretty sure I'm right." Which is to say: "Fuck you and who cares about the facts, because we're just plain better people than you."

#154 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:43 AM:

That was really bitchy, Patrick. A complete misunderstanding of what I said, done in a nasty fashion, in near-total ignorance of my identity, full of idiotic assumptions, with intent to hurt. Really nasty. I was actually hurt until I realized that your tone there is a sign that, at core, you're a nasty human being. I had been misled until now.

Patrick, I live in Providence. I spend a lot of time in Boston. The bits of me that aren't Jewish are Catholic. As you'll see if you actually read what I wrote, I said wasn't trying to demean anything or any place (before anyone objects: that is not a direct quote from my original post). Just saying something I've observed. I never said corruption was exclusive to Catholic mob cities (if you'll look into the histories of the cities I named, you'll find I wasn't wrong about the mob part), and it's a peculiar mental leap that leads to the conclusion that that must be what I meant. As for the Big Dig, I'm sorry I got a detail wrong. Must mean I'm a bigoted asshole who ignores facts to fit a fictional storyline and says "fuck you" to anyone who doesn't. Except that it doesn't mean that at all. I got a detail wrong.

I'll leave now. I'd thought I was welcome, but I guess not.

#155 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:13 AM:

Ethan @148 & 154
Patrick @153

When we publish your respective Best Posts Evar books, I don't really expect to see any of the above-noted comments in there.

Ethan,

I think your comment relied pretty heavily on some noxious stereotypes whose history Patrick alluded to. The problem with stereotypes is that they configure our pattern recognition behaviour. We are primed to pick out things that match them, which confirms the stereotype. That's how we can end up believing negative stereotypes, even about ourselves.

Perhaps they are accurate in this case, but I would want to see them substantiated before I would believe them. Until such a time, the defense that you're one of "them", for whatever value of them we're discussing, doesn't really help. On the internet, no one knows you're a dog. I certainly didn't.

You can go if you like; no one is chaining you to the keyboard. But we'd miss you. (I would, anyway.)


Patrick,

You should probably register your keyboard as a deadly weapon. Naturally, it's your site and your ground rules. But I'm fairly sure there are other ways to get Ethan, who is generally a fairly genial and friendly guy, to see how unpleasant that comment sounded.

Much as I deplore the incivility of our political discouse, couldn't you save the heavy artillery for the next wingnut sockpuppet on a political thread? If they're short on the ground here, I know a few sites that abound with them, or you could cast a Summon Sockpuppets spell^H^H^H start a partisan political thread here to vent your spleen.

#156 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 09:59 AM:

I would miss Ethan, too, and I apologize for biting his head off. Sometimes the asshole in the argument is me.

I have more to say to the substance of the discussion, but right now I'm late for work.

#157 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:29 AM:

Get yer old, corrupt cities right here!

For the record: I can identify the participants in that timeline as (in various combinations) white, black, Hispanic, Italian-American, Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant. Oddly enough, this is a reasonable demographic sampling of the permanent population of the city.

This stuff is why (1) I never really wanted to get into local politics and (2) a certain recent Democratic candidate for governor didn't get my overwhelming support (though he did get my vote, purity-testers.)

On the bright side, New Haven doesn't seem especially prone to icky sex scandals.

#158 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:37 AM:

I won't say that Ethan is wrong. But I will say that Ethan is engaging in innuendo. He's saying that he's pretty sure he's right based on very little proffered evidence. This is as opposed to saying the same sort of things, in the past, about Providence because there you could at least point to Buddy Cianci.

As for the Big Dig, Ethan didn't merely get "a detail" wrong. He got a key detail wrong. It doesn't make any sense to me to level charge of city corruption with evidence of wrong doing at the state and federal level. (For the record, I do agree that primary offender in the Big Dig was likely the general contractor. The state and federal government get dinged for lack of oversight.) At the very least, Ethan ought to, at least, come up with another example rather than say, effectively, that we should ignore the example because he knows that he's right anyways.

I guess all I'm saying is that innuendo, by itself, is not very useful.

Now considering where I live, it's probably sad that I know very little about Boston corruption. So, I'm absolutely not saying there isn't any. I'm looking forward to Ethan's example. (I suspect the name Whitey Bolger will pop up at any moment now. We just need to know what sort of city corruption, as opposed to personal corruption, Billy Bolger might have done because of his brother. I moved to Boston about 6 years ago, then spent most of it buried in a complex project which subsequently got cancelled. So I honestly have no clue.)

#159 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:10 AM:

Since I was the one to bring up the Big Dig, folks should probably lay off Ethan about that being the main gist of his argument. And I just brought it up more as word association than any sort of criminal investigation or empirically based logical argument. The thought process was more simply something like: Waste, Pork, Boston... Big Dig. I was more thinking out loud than anything.

#160 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:20 PM:

[chunks of nasty OT upsetness deleted on review]

I'd be really upset if ethan stopped posting here. He's not always right, but he sure is fun. Unfortunately #154 is his most recent (hopefully not his "last") comment to ML.

I also know we're not the only gay men who comment here, but few of the others bring it to the table when it's relevant. I've gotten my ass flamed by PNH too, but usually I deserved it a bit more than ethan just did, and besides, I've known Patrick for years and years and I know he's got a temper; also, having had lively converations with him in person, I know sometimes he uses hyperbolic rhetoric that's intended to be taken as parody. I doubt ethan has that perspective.

I tried to email him, but his namelink is to a (shared?) blog with no apparent contact information.

I'm all upset now. But I said that. I'll stop now.

#161 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:14 PM:

I had said I was leaving, but I don't want to leave in a misunderstood burst of anti-Catholicism, so I'll clarify:

My original mention of Catholicism was not meant as evidence of corruption. It was meant to specify the type of corruption. There are many kinds of corruption; old-time historically mob-driven Catholic cities do have a specific kind of it. I realize that wasn't clear, for which I apologize. The rest of this I'm privately e-mailing to Patrick.

And abi, the reason I pointed out facts about myself was neither to make a point nor to chastise anyone for not knowing them already. But when Patrick accused me of being an outsider making judgements, he did so in ignorance of who I am, which he needed to know.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:31 PM:

ethan, please don't leave.

#163 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:33 PM:

Ethan, please don't go away. You'll be missed. Being misunderstood and yelled at is no fun, but Patrick has apologized, and lord knows he's not the only person here who has a tendency to leap out of windows without checking for the mattress.

#164 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 02:08 PM:

ethan,

The clarification helps, thanks. One of the patterns that I, and (I assume) Patrick, am primed to match is anti-Catholicism. I've seen enough of it to develop a hypersensitivity, much like an allergic reaction. (I do, after all, live in Scotland).

As I said before, I would rather you didn't leave. How much? Well, I just stood up to Patrick on a tear, and he scares the bejesus out of me*. I wouldn't have done it on my own behalf.

------
* Sorry, Patrick, but you do.

#165 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 02:19 PM:

You around, ethan?

#166 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:01 PM:

Actually, while I appreciate Abi's attempt to explain my reaction, it wasn't actually the "Catholic" thing that set me off, and I regret yielding to the temptation to decorate my actual argument with that issue. It wasn't the only stupid thing about my post, but it was stupid.

My actual hot button is the suggestion that big immigrant-filled cities are somehow more prone to "corruption, nepotism, and bribery" than other centers of power in our political and business culture. In fact, for "padding and pork," the military-industrial complex dwarfs any city political machine. We could go on at similar length about the corporate world of interlocking directorates, golden-parachute retirements for CEOs after they destroy their own companies, and so forth. Iraq alone is a hole through which hundreds of billions of dollars are being being redistributed to the corporate allies of the Executive Branch. The burgeoning federal "homeland security" effort is another such patronage bonanza.

Everybody knows the boat is leaking; everybody knows the captain lied. Meanwhile, there's an entire political ideology overtly dedicated to the idea that the corruption and nepotism sometimes found in the governments of multi-ethnic cities is a very big deal, while the other kinds of corruption are hardly worth bothering about. This ideology is called "modern conservatism." So I'm dubious about assertions that Boston's city government is particularly notable for its "padding and pork." The Ford Motor Company is full of "padding and pork." Halliburton is all about "padding and pork." The scarily growing synergy between big-business evangelical Christianity and the officer corps of the US military is shot through with "padding and pork." Corruption is everywhere in the modern US. We're drowning in it. Claiming that Boston's civic culture is notable for corruption is like starting at the sight of a drop of blood when you're standing inside a slaughterhouse.

But whether it was fair of me to impute these views to Ethan is another question. I don't think it was fair. I was annoyed with him for the "I can't substantiate this but I'm right anyway" sidestep, but this is supposed to be informal conversation, not a legislative debate, and my response was seriously disproportionate to whatever small rhetorical sins he may have committed. If in fact I "scare the bejesus out of" people like Abi, behavior like this is probably at least part of why.

#167 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:07 PM:

Totally irrelevant minor correction: Bulger, not Bolger.

#168 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:19 PM:

Everybody knows the boat is leaking; everybody knows the captain lied.

wow, I haven't heard anyone quote Leanord Cohen in... well... ever.

#169 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Didn't we have a whole long discussion of exactly that song not so long ago? Or was that on Electrolite?

#170 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:27 PM:

Sheesh, Patrick, even your apologies are scary.

I hope Ethan comes back.

#171 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:39 PM:

Didn't we have a whole long discussion of exactly that song not so long ago?

Did we? Could be. I have a brain like a colander. I really do suck at remembering certain things.

#172 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:46 PM:

I don't know if the song was discussed, but your quoting of it at some point (probably on Electrolite) led to me googling the lyrics to figure out what you were talking about, and then eventually to me buying my first Leonard Cohen album.

(Hearing "Hallelujah" on an episode of The West Wing helped that last along.)

#173 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 05:18 PM:

leonard cohen isn't surprising. what i get here that i don't get anywhere else, is the warren zevon love.

(plus another hand in the air for i would like etahn to come back to play again please.)

#174 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 05:24 PM:

Strange synchronistically, I was listening to "Cohen Live" before lunch.

I switched to a mix disc which includes "The Sun Song," the Python song about the universe, and Dr. T's song about his Dosi-Do-Duds.

Its kind of weird how "Hallelujah" is getting used as tragic-mood music ("Scrubs"), as opposed to love-turned-bummer music ("Shrek").

#175 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:22 PM:

An unfamiliar song played behind a romantic scene in last week's episode of Veronica Mars. The vocalist had to be Leonard Cohen.

(HIGGINS exits, stage left, googling)

(HIGGINS re-enters)

Indeed, it was "A Thousand Kisses Deep."

#176 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:11 PM:

Re: Ethan

When I felt put upon, I gave reading this blog a few days vacation.

Hopefully he will be back.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Rob @ 176... Let's hope ethan does come back.

#178 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:28 PM:

kate@167: exactly so; a brain is not what Whitey lacks -- and Oz never gave anyone a conscience, or an ego-ectomy.

#179 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:05 PM:

The discussion everyone seems to be half-remembering may have been the one about the Concrete Blonde cover of "Everybody Knows," which I *think* was actually held at Slacktivist.

Do I win? *What* do I win? Do I win an Internet?

I hope it's not one of those consolation prizes. I don't need *another* SpinSmart.

#180 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:27 PM:

Found it!

Egad, I'm not crazy. Who knew?

#181 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2007, 02:10 PM:

Another Boston area bomb, er, marketing event (actually in the suburb of Newton this time).

#182 ::: P J Evans sees something resembling spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2009, 10:01 PM:

because the linked address contains the domain '.de', which doesn't include the Seychelles.

#183 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2009, 10:12 PM:

Attached website is German, purports to be in English about fleas, but also contains word hash and items about NYC night life. As well as flea markets.

#184 ::: Earl confirms spam sighting at 182 ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2009, 12:24 AM:

"please tell me right I wrote the following sentence" is a very common phrase from many spam postings.

#185 ::: LMB MacAlister mocks spam at 182 ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2009, 12:53 AM:

right I wrote the following cleaning good necessary. :o\

#186 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2009, 03:01 PM:

I am in Netherlands and am trying to learn new language. Please tell me right I wrote the following English sentence: "You guys are the best spam-slayers in the known universe."

#187 ::: Yoda ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2009, 03:47 PM:

On Dagobah am I, new language to learn trying am I. Jedi master with language skills not to good, hmm?

#188 ::: Paul A. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 02:32 PM:

Same prose style and URL as the comment immediately below it on the recent comments list, but funnily enough not the same poster name.

#189 ::: dcb sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 04:40 AM:

In Spanish, about teaching....

#190 ::: Syd sees spam en espanol ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2011, 04:42 AM:

@ 191. Sorry not to have tildes and such...

#191 ::: Syd sees more apparent spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2012, 04:53 AM:

At #193.

#192 ::: David Harmon sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2012, 11:32 AM:

generic comment, link

#193 ::: Nancy Lebovitz notices spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2012, 08:11 AM:

but will try to keep her name line updated.

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