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February 4, 2007

A few Boston updates
Posted by Teresa at 08:24 AM * 196 comments

There are rumors that charges against Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky will be dropped, but so far I haven’t seen anything official.

Sarmonster updates the Homeland Security terrorism advisory scale.

Wired points out an oddly similar case from April Fool’s Day, 2006, when five girls in the small Ohio town of Ravenna put out seventeen cardboard-box replicas of Super Mario Brothers question boxes. The police chief overreacted. The bomb squad and HAZMAT crews got called out to demolish them. Criminal charges were threatened, but then ultimately not filed. The splutterings of the Ravenna police chief sound remarkably similar to those of Mayor Merino.

My Signature Weapon! discusses the Massachusetts “hoax device” laws and opines that (1.) the men placing the devices broke the law only if a reasonable person would believe that they were bombs or some other comparable weapon; yet people in nine other cities had no problem recognizing them as non-bombs; and (2.) the suspects have to have intended to cause a panic (“with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons”) for the charge to stick. His conclusion: he wouldn’t want to be the prosecutor trying to make that case.

Wired’s Table of Malcontents cites what may be the signature quotation for this mess: Attorney General Martha Coakley on the obviously suspicious nature of the Mooninites:

“[The device] had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires.”
The Register points out that Peter Berdovsky is a Belarusian citizen who’s in the process of applying for asylum in the United States, and that unless they’re dropped, the vindictive charges filed against him may screw that up

Majikthise firmly asserts that Guerilla marketing is corporate vandalism: Sam Ewen and Interference, Inc. are the real villains in the Boston Mooninite debacle:

One thing we do know is that Sam Ewen’s “guerilla marketing” firm Interference, Inc. needlessly terrorized a city and abandoned two twenty-something artists to face criminal charges that could wreck their lives. Interference knew about the bomb scare but didn’t tell the police. Instead, the firm pressured the two installation artists to keep quiet while chaos and fear gripped a major city.
The only reason I don’t agree is that I still think the Boston city government screwed up firster and worster; but Lindsey makes some very solid points.

When I first heard that some entity had let the bomb scare go on for hours longer than necessary, it was Turner Broadcasting that was being blamed. I didn’t think the alleged delay was altogether unreasonable. Turner is headquartered far from Boston, and they were one ad agency and two subcontractors removed from the action. It seemed to me that figuring out what was going on, sorting stuff out with the ad agency, and having a quick chat with their legal staff, could easily eat up a few hours of Turner’s time.

But as Lindsey points out, it wasn’t Turner at all. The ad agency, Interference Inc., figured out what was happening by midday at the latest, and could have stopped the panic hours earlier than it did. We know that Interference knew about the bomb scare before 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday, because that’s when Peter Berdovsky emailed several friends to tell them he’d already received email from Interference instructing him to keep quiet about the Mooninites. Turner Broadcasting found out about the bomb scare several hours later.

Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky were blindsided. By all accounts,* Stevens and Berdovsky are a couple of harmless art guys who perform and install video art, and are big fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This past November, a man in Brooklyn recruited Berdovsky to do the work for Interference, and Berdovsky then recruited Stevens. They were supposed to be paid all of $300 each for the job.

For three hundred bucks, you’re not hiring wily guerrilla marketing operatives. You’re hiring a couple of guys to put up your Mooninites. What would Stevens and Berdovsky know about viral marketing emergency bailout procedures? When the agency that hired them told them to keep quiet, they did.

I’m grateful to Lindsey for pointing out that Interference, Inc. is Sam Ewen and crew, i.e. the doofs who ran Eisnor Interactive. They were on the loose during the dotcom boom, putting together ad campaigns that did unlovable stuff like spray-painting inscrutable ad slogans on public sidewalks. After the web ad market and Eisnor Interactive crashed, they reconstituted themselves as Interference Inc., and announced that:

…with buzz marketing all the rage, Ewen and former Performance Event Marketing president Michael Glickman are moving from stealth mode to launch Interference, Inc., a firm specializing in the guerilla marketing tactics that worked for dot-com clients like About.com and HotJobs.com.

Interference, Inc. will use street corner messengers, product samplings, publicity stunts, branded hitchhikers and other “random acts of kindness,” anything to deliver a targeted message to a specific market.

The hell is that targeted. Their collection of strategies sounds to me like “channels you can use for advertising without having to pay for ad space or air time.” Think of it as real-world spam. A lot of the appeal of all this viral/buzz/guerrilla marketing stuff is that it’s dead cheap. The flip side: have you noticed how often you see headlines saying viral marketing campaign backfires? That’s an inherent property of the form. Viral marketing is volatile. If you want control, you make up advertisements and buy ad space and air time. If you’re going the viral route, you have to monitor your effects, and act quickly to mitigate the harm if your campaign unexpectedly turns sour.

Here’s Lindsey again:

Interference did not contact the police. Turner Broadcasting claims that it didn’t hear from Interference about the uproar until 5pm that afternoon. Meanwhile, the city of Boston was paralyzed, federal officials were rushing to the scene, and US Northern Command was monitoring the situation at its Colorado Springs headquarters.

According to the Globe article, Interference didn’t even have the decency to post bond for Stevens and Berdovsky.

I doubt that anyone responsible for the Mooninites initially intended to cause a panic. But when there’s a citywide bomb scare blowing up and you sit on your duffs for hours, not telling the authorities and keeping other people from telling them—yeah, that starts to look like intent.

Finally: during a visit to Providence, R.I., George Foresman, Homeland Security Undersecretary for Preparedness, praised Boston officials for conducting “a very seamless and coordinated response.” What this tells us is not that Boston is smarter than we thought, but that the DHS is dumb, too.

Comments on A few Boston updates:
#1 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:22 AM:

I heard an interesting bit of, well, gloating, on NPR's on the media last night, about how Turner's own CNN was running off with this story, and encouraging the panic, while Turner's own marketing was the ultimate cause of the problem.

http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2007/02/02/06

#2 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:27 AM:

You say Interference Inc. could have stopped the scare earlier, but I wouldn't bet money on it. Several years ago the HAZMAT people were sent out in response to a suspicious white powder on the floor of a locker room. Despite someone telling them it was the residue of their daily application Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder they insisted on doing whatever it is you do when the jihad decides they hate America and our American showers.

More recently there was the flight that was diverted when someone didn't realize his I-Pod had fallen out of his pocket and into the airplane toilet. He told one of the flight attendants what was going on as soon as he noticed it was missing and realized what must have happened, but that didn't stop a bomb squad from doing their thing to the airplane toilet.

If Interference called the authorities first thing I'm not sure it would have changed a thing. (I'm not sure the authorities would admit it if they did, either.)

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:32 AM:

We aren't big fans of "guerilla marketing" (see The Pitch Bitch, for-pay blog posts, comment spam, astroturf et al.) in general.

Whenever guerilla marketing is recognized, it goes sour fast.

The nice folks at Interference Inc. could have avoided a lot of problems by putting stickers on the backs of their LED panels that said, "This advertisement was put up in the dead of night by Interference Inc. Call 1-800-LITEADS for all of your viral-marketing needs."

Except then the fine folks in Boston would have decided this was a biowar attack, because of the word "viral."

#4 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:35 AM:

We know that Interference knew about the bomb scare before 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday

I've been looking for a timeline of what happened. This is the best I've found so far, from the Boston Globe,

The ordeal began around 8 a.m. when an MBTA worker spotted one of the devices affixed to an Interstate 93 ramp near Sullivan Square in Charlestown, forcing the shutdown of the northbound side of the Interstate and tying up traffic for hours. The State Police bomb squad blew the object apart with a water cannon at about 10 a.m. Then, in quick sequence just after noon, reports of similarly suspicious devices flooded police lines, sending anti terrorism forces to over a dozen locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Sometime between 2 and 3 p.m., according to a public safety official, a Boston police analyst recognized the image as a cartoon character, and police concluded it was likely a publicity stunt.

So, those claiming it was half an hour, your myth has been busted. It took two fricken hours for the bomb squad to show up fergawdsake. If it had been a real device it probably would have blown up already.

The article also notes:

The deployment of scores of state, federal, and Boston police specialists, from bomb experts to terrorism analysts, exceeded $500,000, according to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Apparently, the money was pure labor expenses. Half a million dollars in overtime charges.


#5 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:37 AM:

On this morning's news: Turner and Boston have settled. For a $2 million payment, Turner is free of all legal liability.

So I guess that's the amount Stevens and Berdovsky have to raise ...

#6 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:38 AM:

Avery, the iPod in airplane toilet is reported here.

#7 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:42 AM:

More linky trivia: Peter David's daughter works at the comic book store where one of the "devices" was found.

#8 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:54 AM:

I've been taking a "pox on both your houses" stance on this. I don't like viral marketing. I think it acrosses a line which should stay uncrossed. However, charging viral marketers with terrorism is not good way of dealing with them. Charging them with the crimes they've actually committed is. Exposing them for who they are is.

I think it's unethical for Interference Inc. to value their campaign's secrecy over the police investigation. Yes, the investigation oughtn't have gotten to the point it did. But once it did, they should 'fess up and calm the police down.

I think there is enough blame to go around. One can decry security theater and viral marketing at the same time. Security theater is viral marketing for terrorism, or at least the fear of terrorism. So I think one ought to decry both.

I hope the police and Interference Inc. don't scapegoat Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky in the process.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:17 AM:

The splutterings of the Ravenna police chief sound remarkably similar to those of Mayor Merino.

O gods, what have I done? But if you're going to call him Merino, you can at least refer to his "bleatings" rather than his "splutterings."

#10 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:18 AM:

OK, before you ask, I can't find my tinfoil cap this morning, which may explain my suspicions.

From Greg @ 4: The State Police bomb squad blew the object apart with a water cannon at about 10 a.m. Then, in quick sequence just after noon, reports of similarly suspicious devices flooded police lines ...

OK, maybe I just need my meds adjusted, but now knowing which bunch was behind this stunt makes me wonder just who made those noontime calls. Maybe it was just when a detailed description hit the news, and people started to recognize them. Or maybe, could a "guerrilla marketer" see the reaction to their "campaign" as superb additional free publicity? I wonder what their phone records would show, and I also wonder if the Boston authorities have thought of this.

Eisner and Co. could not be stupid enough to think this was a good idea. Right?

#11 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:27 AM:

(Eisner is Disney. Dick Parsons is TW.)

Then, in quick sequence just after noon, reports of similarly suspicious devices flooded police lines

The original report stated four calls came in about the same time. Is that really a "flood"?

#12 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:27 AM:

Claude, there's extremely little info to go on to know with certainty. my guess is that once the news began bleating warnings of the end of the world, bombs, city shutdowns, terrorist threats, panic and fear pretty much took over and folks turned off all common sense and started calling in the other devices.

It's possible that the spammers decide to use it to their advantage but that would attribute to malice that which can easily be explained by stupidity.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:32 AM:

But any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:35 AM:

that was meant to parse as:

malice: spammers called 911 to pump up the publicity stunt.

stupidity: panicked/clueless public called 911, frightened by the vision of LiteBrites.

#15 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:41 AM:

Wait just a ding danged second! From Greg London #4, first they blew one of the LiteBrites up, and then they started getting all the calls? Color me simple, but at that point my response to the calls would have been, "Oh, yeah, we blew one of those up. It was a LiteBrite. It looked pretty cool as it exploded, but it's perfectly safe."

And Teresa, do you really have to drag Providence into this? Hilariously, the Providence Journal's article about Foresman's visit doesn't mention anything about Boston, but does say that he thinks we're prime targets for terror (duh!) and that we might get a fireboat. Which will give children a whole new class of people to want to be when they grow up, and will help put out fires from explosions caused when LNG tankers try to fill up LNG tanks during apocalyptic thunderstorms, because that was such a good idea that I'm sure they'll keep doing it.

#16 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:52 AM:

I detest street spam. I make a point of tearing it down any time it appears in my neighborhood. But these signs just don't trigger that reaction for me. Maybe it's that there's some artistic/cool/original factor to them; they aren't just paper or plastic signs, and they weren't cheap to run off. They don't have any kind of text, just a cartoon image -- I am a bit irritated by the gratuitous rudeness of the gesture. If one recognizes the characters, it's probably a cute thing; if one doesn't (like me) it's a harmless bit of weirdness. Unlike most street spam, these aren't blanketing an area, and unlike a lot of street spam, they aren't particularly difficult to remove.

I can't judge how effective these signs would have been as a marketing device if the Boston Silliness hadn't happened. For me, at least, sonething like this doesn't have the negative effectiveness ("I'll never buy from them or have anything to do with them") of most advertising posted in public spaces.

#17 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 12:00 PM:

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that my take on viral marketing is different from everyone else’s. In my mind the Sony Brava Superball commercial, OK Go's treadmill video and Halo 2's "I Love Bees" game were viral in nature. They were cool things you wanted to tell your friends about.

The stuff I'm seeing cited here is often dressed up with the term viral by the people selling it but, well, they're selling it. And probably using the phrase "information superhighway" while they do it.

#18 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 12:00 PM:

The timeline is also incomplete in that it doesn't include the two, unconnected "pipe bombs" that were discovered a little while after noon -- the quotation marks because they both turned out to be fakes... and it's much harder to tell a fake pipe bomb from a real one.

The best thing about all this in my opinion is that the Boston metropolitan area got to have a full dress rehearsal of a major public emergency... and got somebody else to pay for all of it.

#19 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 12:42 PM:

I find the "pipe bomb" story to be suspiciously convenient, frankly, and wonder why it didn't come to light earlier. It might actually have happened, but I don't think it can be used as an extenuating circumstance because, the people giving interviews didn't mention it at the time, so if it figured in the thinking of the people responding to the toys, its contribution doesn't appear to have been particularly prominent.

To Greg London, thanks for the update on the time-line --- I was one of those who thought the bomb-quad had arrived and recognized the device in maybe a half-hour. I see I was wrong (I didn't realize things got started as early in the morning as they did, either). However, I don't propose to second-guess the bomb-squad on the scene, I suspect that they know their job and how long it takes to do it properly.

As to "whether reasonable people" could mistake these things for bombs, one of the articles linked here earlier talked about "Object placement may have aggravated concerns", and quoted a police officer from (Atlanta, I think?) as saying, "If we'd found it stuck to a bridge we would have thought it might be a bomb, too". That may have been professional courtesy, I suppose.

I do apologize for making my first contributions on this forum on this subject, and in substantial disagreement with my hosts, at that. I've been a long-time reader of Making Light.

I think the City of Boston should put the things up for auction. If they can get Mayor Menino's as well as the artists' autographs on them, all the better.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 12:57 PM:

Ethan (15), I dragged Providence into it so that I could have a version of the Foresman quote that wasn't behind a registration firewall and wasn't from a Fox News outlet.

Avery (17), those were all nifty. I showed the OK Go Here It Goes Again video to a friend just the other day. I didn't mind them either, because they gave more than they got. It's a shame the "herding cats" commercial wasn't tied to a more identifiable product, because it has that same virtue.

Blinkylight Mooninites aren't in that class of bonbon, but they are kinda cool, so I don't mind them. On the other hand, most self-described viral marketing is dreary -- as Joel Polowin says, it's street spam.

dm (19), it would be awful if people thought they couldn't disagree with me. I'd have to have a second identity in the comment threads just to have decent conversations.

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:06 PM:

Well, the pipe bomb piece is interesting in and of itself, if for no other reason than to notice how the police chief describes when things happened, i.e. this article says:

“There were two conventional pipe bombs that were found at the same time that this started to unfold,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.

The pipe bomb-like devices were reported at both locations just after 1 p.m. ... police officials said.


Er, the Mooninites were reported at 8 AM. It's convenient that the police commissioner describes that as "the same time" as 1 pm, when the pipebombs were reported.

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:15 PM:

"BPD Lies About Timing, Suspicion, Everything Else"

or

"Sun Rises In East; Trend Expected To Continue"

Which headline would sell more papers?

#23 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:15 PM:

I think in this case, the viral marketing was intended more to increase the coolness cache of ATHF and [adult swim] than to increase viewership. If you're in on the joke and you get it, you're going to think it's cool, and maybe finally get around to checking out the fan forumz on adultswim.com, and then maybe you'll finally get around to buying that Mooninite t-shirt you've been eyeing for a while.

If you don't know what it is, you're going to either a.) ignore it or b.) go "huh, what is that?" And then sometime later if you see an actual advertisement for ATHF with a Mooninite on it, you're going to go "oh, *that's* what that thing was!" Whether or not you actually tune in to ATHF after that is incidental.

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:21 PM:

The timeline I have to date: and yes, it appears that the "flood" of calls was actually "four".

ref1
ref2
ref3

8 a.m. MBTA worker spots one of the mooninites affixed to an Interstate 93 ramp near Sullivan Square in Charlestown, forcing the shutdown of the northbound side of the Interstate and tying up traffic for hours.

10 a.m. The State Police bomb squad blows the object apart with a water cannon

Noon: reports of similarly suspicious devices flood police lines (perhaps as few as FOUR calls), sending anti terrorism forces to over a dozen locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

1pm: two pipe bombs were reported

1:25pm: Interference Corp sends email to keep quiet about mooninite advertising campaign.

2pm - 3 p.m.: a Boston police analyst recognizes the image as a cartoon character, and police conclude it is a publicity stunt.

#25 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:39 PM:

Teresa #20, I guess that's a good reason. (I hope you didn't think I was actually mad. Just a joke.)

#26 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:42 PM:

I'm still obsessing on one small detail: first they blow it up, then they decide it wasn't a dirty bomb.

#27 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:53 PM:

Re dirty bomb -- wouldn't it be elementary to wave a Geiger counter wand near the suspect device to determine if that was a possibility? I'm certainly not a bomb squad technician, but I can't imagine that professional practice would skip that very useful and quick step.

#28 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:55 PM:

You know, I could forgive almost anything to do with this matter except for the actions of Martha Coaxley. The number of nice things I could say about her I could only fit on the head of a pin to be better clogged by angels.

Interference Inc. do strike me as cowardly viral marketing scum, but honestly, given the competence (not!) of the BPD, I somehow don't think that they gave Berdovsky and Stevens bad advice to "keep it on the dl," because if anyone residing in Boston had called the police to say "Yes, we put them up, but they're harmless Lite-Brites," what are the odds that the gun-ho Fox News luvvin' BPD officers who arrested and tormented a kid for a political protest would hear anything past "Yes, we put them up--" and come and kick down some doors, guns blazing, and declare after a blood-spattered tragedy that they'd had good information about a terror cel, including a dreadlocked Belarusian?

Likewise, if I was a small business in New York, I wouldn't much want to deal with the police either, especially when Turner has bigger lawyers and deeper pockets and I've got them on the line saying they'll deal with this.

Someone should have called the police, but it was a lot safer for that someone to be all the way in Atlanta, barricaded by lawyers, private security and just plain distance, than to be in a city where the cops were in full-on panic mode.

#29 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 01:59 PM:

#27: OK, I admit it, I used the phrase "dirty bomb" as shorthand for "bomb containing substances which one should avoid spreading all over a major metropolitan area."

#30 ::: Stephen G ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:01 PM:

I've seen an interesting comparison between what happened in Boston and the 1938 War-of-the-Worlds-inspired panic. While there's a lot of blame to spread around, and the splash radius of the event is wide, I tend to apportion the largest share to Boston, followed by Interference, and a dollop left over for Berdovsky and Stevens.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

#31 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:04 PM:

Stephen G: That Herald column is...tacky? Awful? Mean? I can't think of a word that sums up how I feel about it.

#32 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:24 PM:

#22 Xopher
"Sun Rises In East; Trend Expected To Continue"

More likely, the paper will also interview someone from a big conservative think-tank who hotly contends that it rises in the West, and either split the difference ("Sun Rises in Kansas...") or run the controversy ("Will Sun Rise In East? Experts Disagree").

#33 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Xopher @ #22:

I think the first headline is probably more interesting. There is, as of yet, nothing we can do about the Sun.

#34 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:49 PM:

I'm guessing the timeline is this:

8 AM weird device reported on bridge; road closed, traffic snarls, reports go out on radio

10 AM bomb squad shows up, examines it, pretty sure it's not a bomb but to play it safe they destroy it. By this time, radio has been talking about it for a couple hours.

10 - 12 Word starts gets back to city hall, and thereby to radio, that it's not a bomb, but radio continues to mention it in recaps of the news of the morning and traffic reports. Police + city proceed, thinking it's an isolated unidentifiable weird device, not a bomb but still noteworthy. Dealing with logistics of reopening roadways; everyone in town now primed to keep eyes peeled for weird things on bridges.

12 Four phone calls (from cautious citizens, from funny citizens in the know about ATHF, from sleazy Interference Inc?) reporting more mystery devices on bridges etc around town. Police now think, pretty reasonably, what the hell is going on? We don't know what these things are. The bomb squad said they weren't bombs, but it's awful weird for unidentifiable electronics to pop up on important infrastructure all over town, overnight (so far as we know now). Maybe they're just detonators, or relay points for a detonation signal, or something else -- we don't know what they are, and they're all over the place in places where they could really do harm. We'd better treat this as the real deal, while trying to figure out what the hell they are.

1 Two apparent pipe bombs found (to the person upthread who finds that too convenient: these were being reported on internet news sources at 2:00 Wednesday, which is when I started following the story).

2:30 Police analyst figures out what the ATHF signs are, and police realize it's not an attack.


If this is right, the police response actually seems to me like a reasonable approach. The unreasonable part comes from the radio and TV chatterers pumping it up, so the city then feels the need to bluster about, and find a fall guy for, the inconvenience caused by its totally reasonable cautious response.

#35 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 02:50 PM:

Re #27 Connie:

"... wouldn't it be elementary to wave a Geiger counter wand near the suspect device..."

Yes and no. Yes it should and would be a good move to test for radioactivity. But, as the saying goes, this is a situation where absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Consider the recent poisoning of Mr Litvinenko using Polonium 210 in London. The reason Po210 was so effective, is that it is easily shielded, being an almost pure alpha emitter. (Yes, the London authorities found traces after the fact, when they knew what look for. That doesn't invalidate the point.)

#36 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 03:05 PM:

TexAnne:(26)

I'm still obsessing on one small detail: first they blow it up, then they decide it wasn't a dirty bomb.

Disassembling explosives with a (relatively) low-speed blast is pretty standard -- unlikely to trigger the main charge, but very likely to separate the detonator from the charge from the payload.
This probably came after the Geiger Counter and the chemical sniffer.

#37 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 03:12 PM:

#34:The unreasonable part comes from the radio and TV chatterers pumping it up, so the city then feels the need to bluster about, and find a fall guy for, the inconvenience caused by its totally reasonable cautious response.

Blaming the media is a time-honored thing that politicians have done for years. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the police were behaving perfectly reasonable and the problem was the evil, evil media whipping the public up into a mindless frenzy. Why wouldn't the city leaders just blame the media rather than trying to puff themselves up? It's simpler, much less embarrasing for them and nothing they haven't done before.

Also, your description of what happened at 12 does not strike me as reasonable behavior for a few reasons. One, it smacks of "Hollywood terrorist movie plot." As Bruce Schneier points out in his blog, this is inconsistent with what terrorists actually do. Two, the same bomb squad which was so competent to figure out these weren't bombs should have figured out that none of those scenarios you suggest applied either. Your description of what happened at 12 is consistent with people assuming the worst case scenario just in case, despite the lack of any credible threat.

#38 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 03:17 PM:

John, 36: Thanks. That's what I wanted to know.

#39 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 03:35 PM:

Regarding what happened at 12:00 by Anne's time-line:

One false alarm in the morning gives you no useful information about a call that comes in later in the day, regarding a different location. Particularly if the calls described something odd seen as you drive by at high speed, (few details) as one would do under an expressway overpass. The best one can do is to treat it as what it is, a new call, and draw conclusions about any connections once you have specific information. After the second or third identical "device" you can probably draw conclusions that the fourth is related, but you can't draw conclusions from a sample of one. But after the first call, you can't judge the second by "the bomb squad said 'they were not bombs'" because the bomb squad hasn't said that, they only said that the thing they responded to this morning wasn't a bomb.

I don't really blame the Boston media. This is, properly, a local traffic story, about why there was a temporary disruption in the roadways. How local traffic became national, or international, news, is another story. There is a lack of proportion in the coverage that is troubling.

One would home that 24 hour national news would involve in-depth coverage of the national government, international politics, and the like. But done on the cheap, it winds up just being the most melodramatic local news re-broadcast nationally. With no additional analysis, or even thought, going into the matter.

And it also becomes a matter of the media making the news, rather than just reporting it. The Boston officials' reaction might not have been so extreme if they hadn't known that they were being watched so closely, with every action, right or wrong, about to be immediately ripped apart by talking heads. You can't really handle a local matter in a proportionate way when it is drawing national attention.

#40 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:39 PM:

Yikes, just heard on the radio that Turner is paying Boston $2 million. Half of it is to reimburse costs. The other half is to go to Homeland Security programs. In return, neither Turner nor Interference will be charged with anything. As for the two men, Martha Coakley said that their charges will likely be "resolved," whatever that means.

There's a part of me that wonders if the Boston politicians deliberately played up their response in an attempt (successful) to fund their projects.

#41 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:47 PM:

Tort reform!
Deep pockets==guilt

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:50 PM:

Tart reform? Sounds good to me.

#43 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Sorry, I got too much stupid on me for a moment there.

#44 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:54 PM:

#37: I definitely think the whole thing is silly, and I'm not at all saying "the politicians acted honorably all the way, a pox on the nasty nasty media". I'm just saying that the police response considered in isolation is not necessarily an overreaction. The politicians then get in on the act, needing to look tough and like there's nothing false about a false alarm, and the whole thing is made bigger by, as #39 Ursula says, national media flapping a local story into national hem-and-haw fodder. All I meant is that "overreaction" more accurately describes the rhetoric being used by officials and press, not the actions of the emergency teams.

#45 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 04:54 PM:

But when there’s a citywide bomb scare blowing up and you sit on your duffs for hours, not telling the authorities and keeping other people from telling them—yeah, that starts to look like intent.

Given the political climate and legal situation, the only phone call they should have made was to their lawyer.

If they'd called the police and said "They're just lite-brites, deal with it", they'd basically have confessed to violating MA's stupid hoax bomb law. This would have not only destroy Mr. Berdovsky immigration chances, it would have basically put both of them on the spot for five years imprisonment.

I can believe that *any* organization facing this would do the right thing, as defined in America: Shut the hell up and call the lawyers first, because Doing The Right Thing can get you in seriously hot water.

This sucks -- but you play the game by the rules that are in play, not the rules you'd like to be in play.

Why do you think Turner settled?

#46 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 05:33 PM:

#30 & 31 - The Herald's Nasty Bit of Spew

The whole column was a nasty bit of work, which I suspect was written with Limbaugh's audience in mind.

And, I take personal exception to "fellow “artists,” the synonym for which is “unemployed.”"

Fegh. There are columnists who should be unemployed shortly.

#47 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 05:42 PM:

I'm just saying that the police response considered in isolation is not necessarily an overreaction.

Except there's a million dollars that just went unaccounted for. A million bucks on a false alarm?

I'm sorry, but the only way I can see that as NOT an overreaction is coming from a place of fear.

AT MOST, you have the first litebrite called in at 8. The bomb squad takes TWO FRICKEN HOURS (never mind how slow a response that is) to hose it down. At two hours and five minutes, they should have looked at the pieces and easily figured out that it contained no explosives. All subsequent calls (and apparently there were only FOUR) should have AT MOST been dealt with in similar fashion. i.e. send a cruiser, send the water cannon. Done.

This is giving a lot of the benefit of the doubt in just the fact that any call of a possible bomb, no matter how NOT like a bomb it looks like is handled like a bomb.

But at NO TIME did anything ever warrant shutting down the city, calling the FBI, calling the coast guard, calling the terrorist experts, whatever.

Unless a person looks at it in terms of "fear everything until proven safe", their reaction, especially when viewed on the timeline, shows a massive overreaction. There is no "normal" response to a false alarm that should have racked up a million dollars in expenses.

If that's normal, then terrorists don't need to bother with real bombs, they'll just keep phoning in the false alarms until we go broke.

#48 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 06:08 PM:

The Herald columnist. Feh. I've now got someone I dislike even more than Martha Coakley.

I hope he and his paper go as bankrupt financially as they are morally.

#49 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 06:20 PM:

General geeky comment: the "water cannon" mentioned is known as a disruptor. It's more a kind of water shotgun, shooting a slug of water into the mechanism, fast enough to disassemble the fusing mechanism without risk of setting it off by fire or explosive compression. Also fast enough to disassemble any likely anti-handling device. I think they were first used by the British Army in Northern Ireland, but they're commonly sold around the world now. (I have a friend who's a salesperson for a company that manufactures and sells anti-terrorist equipment.)

#50 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 06:31 PM:

What a delicious typo -- or is it?

Mayor Menino -- a Merino is a kind of sheep.

And yes, I kept reading his name as "merino", too, just because it was so fitting.

#51 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Does anyone else feel the urge to turn Howie Carr's name (I hope he's not a relative of mine...) into the top Google search for smug asshole?

#52 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 07:08 PM:

and could have stopped the panic hours earlier than it did

I'm not entirely sure about that. Telling people what was going on didn't help the guy with the iPod ...

#53 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 07:15 PM:

What I'm finding particularly weird, and more than a little disturbing, is the incidence (mostly online, but at least once in an NPR interview) of the word "hypervigilance" as a term of approval in discussions of this piece of security theater. It's a pathological reaction, a state of mind where one cannot discriminate between real danger and the shadow of a branch on ones bedroom wall, and whereas it might be an appropriate description of what happened in Boston, it's not a good thing.

#54 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 07:15 PM:

#2/#52: I should read first, post later, and not the other way 'round. Sorry.

#55 ::: Kristin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Thank you so much for ceasing to jump to conclusions, she said sarcasticly. The City of Boston in no way "Shut down". There were a few street closings, a few subway closings, but ONLY in the affected areas. I depend on the T for my transportation. I was in unaffected area, the MBTA web sight had timely, posted advisories for the affected areas, and my train was less than 5 minutes delayed.

And as someone who colaborated on explosive pranks during college, creative decoration in NO WAY indicates that a device is harmless.

#56 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 08:26 PM:

I'd be happy to turn him into the Google search for "smug asshole," but it's even more heartening to find that, since I read it this morning, the "rate this article" rating for that ghastly bit of dickery is remaining steady at one star out of five (and you're not allowed to rate lower than one). I somehow think the readership is just as offended, which is good for getting the smug asshole canned.

If you haven't left your one star out of five, please do so.

#57 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 08:31 PM:

#47: a million bucks on a false alarm?

I agree but I'd be interested to hear where those numbers come from. It sounds to me like the $1 million figure is a product of the lawyers negotiating (with a mind to make Turner settle by thrownig around bigger numbers even than that), not a real accounting number. By the time Menino's initial $500,000 number came out, we were already to the threats and recriminations phase, so he had every incentive to emphasize the Seriousness of the Crime by inflating the number.

(Let's do some math with fake numbers. How many hours are involved? Say 8am - 5pm, so averaging 9 hours. How many city workers needing to be paid overtime - say around 1000? How much is their overtime - maybe say an average of $30/hour? That would give us $270,000 in overtime.)

#58 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 08:48 PM:

The "Herald Pulse" poll next to the smug asshole's article has 53% voting "Made the Media look like dolts" in response to the question "What do you think ad pranksters Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky accomplished most with yesterday’s courthouse press conference?" That made wading through Mr. Carr's blather worth the effort.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 08:49 PM:

Is the Boston Herald generally a right-wing, anti-immigrant rag? Or is it just that Howie Carr is an asshole?

Howie Carr is an asshole.
Howie Carr is an asshole.
Howie Carr is an asshole.
Howie Carr is an asshole.
Howie Carr is an asshole.

Just to say that a bunch of times.

#60 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 09:02 PM:

I don't want to take this too far off topic, but Xopher, if you go to Howie's website (easy to Google) you'll find he also has a (eye assaulting) site about Ted Kennedy and another (more eye assault) one about John Kerry (which I found particularly vulgar).

#61 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 09:04 PM:

So he's a RIGHT-WING asshole. I find that phrase redundant, frankly.

#62 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 09:46 PM:

Re the Herald column:

I am over 35 (ok, only by a few months, but still).

I am gainfully employed.

I have never in my life even tried an illicit substance.

I *love* Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Suck on *that*, Smug Asshole.

#63 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:06 PM:

OK. As a born and bred Boston-area-person, let me tell you some things.

Boston Herald = tabloid.

Boston Herald = Right wing tabloid. (The equation isn't perfect, but it's certainly generally a hell of a lot more conservative than the Globe.)

Howie Carr = Reactionary asshole who goes after anyone who's not his definition of "a good guy." He's, um, kind of a jerk.

So in other words, yes, Xopher.

#64 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Xopher (#59):

As kate noted in #63, the correct answer is "both". Let's put it this way: Rupert Murdoch used to own the Herald, and it wasn't that long ago.

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:07 PM:

kate: He's, um, kind of a jerk.

Why be nice to him? Howie Carr is a spherical asshole; that's his job, and it's a job he's done for a very long time.

Chris: The Horrid owned by Murdoch? I've been avoiding too much of the ugly side of the news, I guess; IIRC it became a tabloid when Hearst (Inc.) bought it. Never thought I'd see the day when I looked back on Hearst as a relatively decent organization.

#66 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:25 PM:

#57: It sounds to me like the $1 million figure is a product of the lawyers negotiating

Anne, if that's true, then it simply reflects WORSE on Boston government. They basically blackmailed Turner into paying two million dollars for Boston's overreaction. If it didn't cost two million dollars why is Turner paying two million dollars not ringing up in anyone's mind as anything other than polictical "grease"? Dirty money? Slimey politics?

Lemme tell ya something, "we won't press charges if you pay our expenses" followed by an insanely inflated list of expenses is CORRUPT.

So, EITHER Boston REALLY DID blow two million dollars overreacting to a false alarm, OR the Mayor is essentially blackmailing Turner not because Turner did anything wrong, but because Turner has deep pockets and the mayor saw an opportunity to cash in.

Those are the ONLY two possibilities.

Overreaction or political opportunistic blackmail.

I don't care which one it is. Both prove bad government.

#67 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:08 AM:

If they're going to be hypervigilant, they should get rid of all the public trash cans, or at least make sure that no one puts in a container that's bigger than 3 ounces. And while they're at it, they should move MIT to some other M state. (I'm expecting that some time, this cartoon character is going to show up in the lights of some large building, or buildings, and visible to a large number of people. Possibly on the 4th. During the fireworks.)

I have some sympathy for the two guys, cause people I know and like are the sort of people who would do the sort of things that normal people miss and some people think is cool. But the things they do could blink or otherwise send the authorities into conniptions.

#68 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:07 AM:

Here's a press conference with Stevens and Berdovsky. They talk about hair.

#69 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:34 AM:

Real-world spam is a terrifying prospect...

Imagine total strangers roaming the streets, shouting to everyone they walk by: "Your penis is too small! Buy cheap Viagra! Make your breasts bigger! Dear Friend, I represent the exiled Defense Minister of Liberia!"

Where does one draw the line between spam and terrorism...?
:-S

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

#70 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 07:01 AM:

Another geeky note about the two hour delay between the first call and the disruption of the first device: there is a concept called "soak time". Some bombs are planted with a view to killing the EOD crew, timed to go off as they're examining the bomb (the original call being by the terrorists to ensure that the crew arrive in the appropriate window). To counter this the crew either use a Wheelbarrow-type ROV to position the disrupter, or if they don't have an ROV they wait a while to see if the bomb will go off on its own before setting up the disrupter on a frame. (Cutting wires Hollywood-style is passé.)

#71 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 07:40 AM:

Greg London, #47:


AT MOST, you have the first litebrite called in at 8. The bomb squad takes TWO FRICKEN HOURS (never mind how slow a response that is) to hose it down. At two hours and five minutes, they should have looked at the pieces and easily figured out that it contained no explosives. All subsequent calls (and apparently there were only FOUR) should have AT MOST been dealt with in similar fashion. i.e. send a cruiser, send the water cannon. Done.

I disagree. The timeline says that two hours after the call the first "bomb" was detonated with a watercannon; that doesn't mean the bomb squad only showed up then. You do not hurry bomb disposals, no matter how innocent a device looks. Once the bomb squad is called out it WILL follow its own protocols for dealing with a worst case scenario.

Similarly, anybody who decides based on the false alert they just dealt with that a NEW call is also bogus needs to look for a different job. Even if it was clear these calls were related, could they exclude the possibility that the first device was a dud in order to lure them into thinking the real bomb is also a dud?

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 07:55 AM:

A.R. Yngve #70: It wouldn't be shouting, it would be sidling up to people and making those statements...

#73 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 08:28 AM:

#70:Where does one draw the line between spam and terrorism...?

Are you saying that the Nigerian scam inspires fear within you? That you take the Nigerian scam as a threat upon your life?

#72:Similarly, anybody who decides based on the false alert they just dealt with that a NEW call is also bogus needs to look for a different job.

Did anyone say that? I thought the argument was that it should be easy for the bomb squad to identify all of these things as not bombs due to the lack of necessary components (e.g., detonator, explosives etc.)

(I'm reminded of the story "Eric and the Gazebo.")

The only problem, off hand, they might have run into (as I mentioned in a different thread) is a DDOS. If that is what happened, in this case, it was a problem of their own making, caused by having amped up the fear in the first place. They chose to go public with this right away before they knew anything.

Contrast this with the fake pipe bombs which didn't merit a mention in the news until the next day. Even then, the spin was that these things, which, unlike the LED signs, actually intended to be mistaken for bombs, were not noteworthy in and of themselves. They were only noteworthy because the police found them while they were dealing withe LED signs.

Ironically, if they had treated the LED signs like they had treated the fake pipe bombs, none of this would have happened.

(Also, if the problem was a DDOS, I'm not sure how Turner is responsible unless they were the people calling the sightings into the police.)

#74 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 09:42 AM:

Not so much fear as loathing.
(And a "secondary fear" that spam will eventually destroy society by making any meaningful communication impossible -- which is a kind of terrorism...)
;-P

#75 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:55 AM:

72: great. I said "never mind the two hours" and thats exactly what you harp on. So, whether or not two hours is acceptable time frame for the bomb squad to disable some explosives, I'm not sure. I'd have to look into some other city statistics. But the NEVER MIND was a flag that the two hours was irrelevant to my main argument. The incompetance is the two million dollars in expenses for a false alarm.

TWO MILLION DOLLARS FOR A FALSE ALARM.

Either the city overreacted.

Or the city overbilled and forced Turner to pay to avoid going to court for a non-crime.

#76 ::: Lisa Hertel ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:12 AM:

There has been much discussion of the timeline. Having lived (and driven) through some of it, this is what I know:
"Police activity" was reported in the area where the first device was seen, starting shortly after 8am, and local street traffic was delayed. A bit after 9am, the report changed to "possible bomb," and that's when the highway was shut down.
It is quite possible that the real chain was MBTA worker notices device, decides to call cops, a cruiser comes by, decides to play it safe & calls HQ, they decide to call the bomb squad. In Boston traffic, the bomb squad, if located downtown (a safe assumption) would take at least 30 minutes to get to that area. The chain of calls would also take about 30 minutes, so the bomb squad did reply with a decent speed.

By noon, it's hit the news, and the locals are scared. The locals don't know that the first device is harmless; they only know what the news reported as they came into work. So, on their way to lunch, a few people see things, and decide that the cops should be called. This time, the cops respond faster, because you never know.

By mid-afternoon, it's apparent most of the devices are ad boards. Then the call from Turner comes, 'fessing up. Meanwhile, cops and city workers (paid in excess of $50/hour, plus time-and-a half for overtime--and the bomb squad people probably get hazardous duty pay in excess of $100/hour) have been working OT since 8am. That's at least $600 apiece, mind you, so it doesn't take long to reach $500,000. (Local police make 100K a year easily; living around here is expensive. With OT, a cop can clear over 200K/year.)

The next day, the guerilla artists are hauled in, and, instead of apologizing, crack jokes and are basically wise-asses, endearing them to nobody.

Now, if CN had just paid for ad space--indeed, they had a large billboard ad near where the first device was found up until a couple of weeks ago--all this would have been avoided. Instead, they decide to be cheap. Didn't pay off, though they did get publicity.

#77 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:31 AM:

so, 5,000 man hours of work in half a day is a reasonable response to a device that doesn't even look like a bomb?

And this should be 5,000 man hours of additional work, excluding the normal police force that is usually on duty at any given time.

Whatever. Some people live in panic and fear and are willing to give their government carte blanche money and overlook the most assinine behaviour simply because it makes some people feel safe. Yes. Take away my liberty to make me safe. Yes. Spend a half a million dollars chasing a false alarm to make me feel safe. Yes. Do whatever you need to do, but for gawds sake, make me feel safe.

There's just no arguing with fear.

#78 ::: Karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:36 AM:

Maybe guerilla marketing firms do things differently than above-board marketing firms -- but every time I've worked on any project that got within of a whiff of anyone's licenced characters, everyone is required to sign work-for-hire agreements.

If the agency "owns" Stevens and Berdovsky's work, it would seem like they should also own any illegal aspects of that work as well.

#79 ::: karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:40 AM:

"licensed." Sorry.

#80 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:51 AM:

#77:The next day, the guerilla artists are hauled in, and, instead of apologizing, crack jokes and are basically wise-asses, endearing them to nobody.

So you're saying that if they had just said that they were sorry, everything would have been ok? That is, if they'd just said that they were sorry, you'd overlook the overreaction by the police. If not, this isn't relevant to the argument. (i.e., if you're reaction would be the same regardless of how they reacted, then their reaction obviously has had no effect on you.)

The locals should have known the first device was harmless because the police knew. Oh, the police didn't inform the media... Oh, well. Also, "because you never know" is a horrible reason for doing anything. This is the reasoning that propagates chain letters and urban legends about kidney thefts. All "because you never know" does is the unsubstantiated propagation of fear. If this is your best argument, you are admitting that the Boston Police acted out of panic. I would hope better of them.

I don't like the idea that mistakes or boneheaded moves by one group of people excuses mistakes or boneheaded moves by another group. The guerrilla marketer didn't behave intelligently. But that doesn't excuse a sheer panic response from trained professionals who know better.

#81 ::: Andreas ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:32 PM:

I guess the whole Boston thing will get a few Al-Qaeda donors thinking.
In Iraq they have to finance bombs that kill hundreds of innocent people to facilliate the political climate they favour and still only barely register on western news while in Boston the could have a similar thing with just two dudes and a couple of blinking lights.
It's as if Boston had put up a sign inviting them to hit them with their lamest attack possible and promised them to react exactly like they would if they had executed some fancy 24/Jack Bauer plan.

If your goal is increased fearmongering, the cost/benefit analysis of the DHS/BPD/Media reaction must be a terrorists dream.

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Yep. Boston has EMBOLDENED THE TERRORISTS. Who are, as Jon Stewart has pointed out, apparently quite an emboldenable bunch.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:39 PM:

karen 80: I just thought you were British.

#84 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 01:55 PM:

Greg London:

"Take away my liberty to make me safe. Yes. Spend a half a million dollars chasing a false alarm to make me feel safe. Yes. Do whatever you need to do, but for gawds sake, make me feel safe."

They should get themselves shipped to Gitmo like they always wanted. Or not.

#85 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 02:00 PM:

What Turner has done is an out-of-court settlement for $2 million (described as $1 million to cover the cities' expenses and $1 million in contributions for more equipment and training). Money well spent, it does sound like more training would be a good thing.

I've been trying to make the original $500,000 figure make sense --- at $100/hour that's 5000 staff-hours. Assume most of those people were active for ten hours, that's 500 people? "More than a dozen sites" means 40 people per site?

That seems like it might be excessive, but it's not too outrageous for a sizeable event, particularly when you factor in the cost of specialized equipment and things like helicopters, and I suspect bomb squad members bill out at somewhat more than $100/hour.

$1 million in expenses doubles that, and seems odder. I wonder what the city spends to support things like the 4th of July Esplanade Concert or First Night. I suspect that those costs are more likely the basis for the estimates we've been hearing than any accounting of the actual costs.

#86 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 02:39 PM:

DM, the first moonite was 8-10 am. They got four calls around noonish for more devices. By 2, they realized it was an advertising campaign. I have yet to find enough detail of a timeline to figure out when the moonites were taken down, but I don't think twelve moonites got the full bomb squad treatment before 2. The numbers I read seem to point to the first one getting a massive response 8-10. A few getting a smaller response 12-2. and the others taken down by cops in cruisers after 2.

I haven't read hardly anything about the two simulated pipebombs, how many people responded to that, etc. But that shouldn't get counted in.

But it's really a stretch to add it up to a million samolians.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 02:48 PM:

Re "hypervigilance" -- another point which should be noted is that it's a condition which cannot be maintained for very long. And then, when people are worn out by always having to be hyper-alert for any sign of danger, when they're tired and have jumped at too many things that turned out to be false alarms and are starting to slip, THAT is when a well-prepared enemy will strike.

You just can't stay at "crisis alert" effectively for any length of time. That's Tactics 101.

#88 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Turner could make that money back with a TV movie about the farce . . . although they might have trouble getting permission to film in Boston.

#89 ::: squeech ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:04 PM:

My daily commute involves Sullivan Square, the subway station under the elevated highway where the first LiteBrite was found. When I got there, about 9AM, the subway was closed. The MBTA had a workaround in place where they ran trains from Oak Grove, the north terminus, for three stops to Wellington, the stop before Sullivan. Then passengers were herded off the train and onto shuttle buses, which stopped at Sullivan and Community College to pick up and discharge passengers, and then let everybody off at North Station to continue by train.

They'd set up an ad hoc platform at Sullivan across the parking lot from the station proper, probably a good idea if the bomb was for real. There were some policemen helping with crowd control, pointing people to the right platform. I asked one of them what was going on, and as I recall he told me that the bomb squad had just shown up.

The buses have radio communications with MBTA dispatchers. From what I heard it seemed to me that they were trying to figure out what other routes they could divert buses from, during rush hour, to add to the Orange Line shuttle service.

I don't know what all this cost, but diversions from routines generally have costs. Certainly it contributes to the half million we're trying to tally up.

#90 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Stefan at 89: Turner could make that money back with a TV movie about the farce . . . although they might have trouble getting permission to film in Boston.

I bet Toronto would be happy to help.

#91 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:14 PM:

The next day, the guerilla artists are hauled in, and, instead of apologizing, crack jokes and are basically wise-asses, endearing them to nobody.

These guys are hauled in and charged under a terrorism law. The charges are pretty blatantly false. However, apologising could be taken as an admission of guilt, or whatever.

They can't really say anything meaningful, because it's an ongoing court case, and they don't want to say something that could harm their case. However, the media want a sound bite, so instead of saying `no comment', the accused say, `that's not a hair question.'

They don't say anything possibly harmful to their case, and they point out just how stupid the whole carry on is.

These guys were mainly concerned about getting released, not making Boston look good.

#92 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:31 PM:

#92 - Also, standard advice these days, as I see it in the various trade magazines that cross my desk, is to NEVER say "no comment". It's taken by most readers as an admission of guilt (as you mention), or as showing that you have something to hide.

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:43 PM:

Stefan @ 89... Turner could make that money back with a TV movie about the farce...

Or Law & Oder will rip it from the headlines. Ah, if only Jerry Orbach were still among us, I can well imagine he'd have the appropriate comment about the BrightLites of Death.

#94 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 03:44 PM:

If the two guys were being paid for exposure, the hair question bit was genius. It got everyone talking about them and how they avoided questioning in a weird and interesting way. They got another round of publicity from the hair questions, as well as some Internet admiration.

#95 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:06 PM:

Lee at 88, on the results of hypervigilance: yup, it's self-limiting, and not in a good way. In the human body, it pounds the hell out of the adrenals and the circulatory system, and messes up the central nervous system with neurotransmitter breakdown products. In a political entity, it uses up resources in closely analogous ways, and eventually makes it impossible to keep the 911 dispatch center and vehicle maintenence staffed, not to mention the hell of paying overtime for first responders.

#96 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 04:58 PM:

#89 Stefan:

Hey, if they do it, I have a great idea for a guerilla marketing scheme to promote the movie....

#97 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:02 PM:

#66 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2007, 11:25 PM:
It sounds to me like the $1 million figure is a product of the lawyers negotiating....

Anne, if that's true, then it simply reflects WORSE on Boston government. They basically blackmailed Turner into paying two million dollars for Boston's overreaction. If it didn't cost two million dollars why is Turner paying two million dollars not ringing up in anyone's mind as anything other than polictical "grease"? Dirty money? Slimey politics?
Lemme tell ya something, "we won't press charges if you pay our expenses" followed by an insanely inflated list of expenses is CORRUPT.
So, EITHER Boston REALLY DID blow two million dollars overreacting to a false alarm, OR the Mayor is essentially blackmailing Turner not because Turner did anything wrong, but because Turner has deep pockets and the mayor saw an opportunity to cash in.
Those are the ONLY two possibilities.
Overreaction or political opportunistic blackmail.

I don't care which one it is. Both prove bad government.

I agree with everything you say here -- I think the overreaction and badness is on the part of the politicos after the fact. I absolutely think it's sleazy that Boston made Turner pay that much -- what HAS to be a fake number -- and I'm surprised in a way that Turner paid it. (I guess it's good that there's more money in city coffers so that money doesn't get taken from necessary services, but still.) My quibble is with saying that the police or bomb squad overreacted by halting traffic for a few hours while they tried to figure out what was going on.


#74 ...this was a problem of their own making, caused by having amped up the fear in the first place. They chose to go public with this right away before they knew anything.

Contrast this with the fake pipe bombs which didn't merit a mention in the news until the next day.

I don't think either of these claims is right. First of all, they stopped traffic at the site of the first device. That's totally reasonable, seems to me. Once they've stopped traffic, there is a traffic change, delays, etc that merit reporting on, on the morning commute shows. It's not like they have the option to keep the traffic flow a secret. So they say to the radio stations "We've stopped traffic at this location because we have a weird device. The bomb squad is taking care of it. We'll let you know more soon. Commuters should detour around this location." And the radio stations put this out and start talking about what the device might be. Radio stations monitor police radio, and their helicopter or whatever would see that the bomb squad truck is at this location, and listeners will call in to say "hey the bomb squad is outside my house, do you know what the hell is going on?" So I don't think the police have the option to say nothing.

And the two pipe bombs were mentioned in news reports alongside discussion of the signs, by 2:00 on the day of the incidents. The news reports (eg CNN internet) said that they seemed to be a separate thing from the signs... so already this is the word they were getting from police. Also, already the headline at 2:00 was along the lines of "Unidentified devices snarl traffic", with the story reporting that the police knew the devices didn't contain any explosives.

I really think the overreaction here was after-the-fact from politicans, lawyers, and media -- not from the police/bomb squad response.


#77 (Local police make 100K a year easily; living around here is expensive. With OT, a cop can clear over 200K/year.)

Wow - I'm surprised by the numbers. On the Boston police application (googleable) they say the starting salary is $45K, that's what I was basing my numbers on. And yeah, I was figuring on not as many high-paid bomb squad members, and lots of low-paid transit employees and cops working traffic control duty rather than hazard duty.

#98 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:15 PM:

The Boston police are now saying that Berdovsky and Peters filmed the police taking down one of the signs, and are claiming that their failure to immediately tell the police that the sign was not a bomb proves that they intended to cause the chaos. Only a few problems with that reasoning:

1. Berdovsky and Peters had no way of knowing whether someone else had attached something bad to the sign, or knowing that the police were worried simply because of the sign itself. Remember, the police were being far too secretive about what they knew.

2. Berdovsky and Peters may well have thought that the police could not possibly still be thinking that the sign was dangerous, since the sign was obviously harmless. (At least that was obvious to everyone else who saw one over the previous 3 weeks in 10 cities and didn't call 911.) Again, the police were being far too secretive about what they knew.

3. If they had told the police what they knew immediately, it may well not have changed the police response. Many police officers simply don't believe people who aren't wearing suits, and many lawyers will tell you that you should never offer information to the police. The police reinforce that message every time they arrest people who do try to do the right thing.

According to the news reports, Peter Berdovsky called the people who hired him and they said they'd get in contact with the authorities. He later directly told the police what he knew, and the police responded by arresting him on obviously false charges. Now the prosecutors are stretching for every justification they can find to support the charges, because they're embarrassed by how much of the public doesn't actually want to a lynching.

No matter what he said or didn't say, no matter when he said it or didn't, the prosecutors would spin it to make it sound bad. And they know that he can't respond directly.

#99 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 06:50 PM:

Ah, Sam Ewen. A gentleman who does a piss-poor job reselling stuff to other people and skimming off the top while leaving others holding the bag since 1995.

Why, yes, he did business with my company, and yes, he ticked off his client and us by being lazy and sloppy and screwing up computer systems. Why do you ask?

#100 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 08:05 PM:

Given Berdovsky's immigration status, and the fact that in the paranoid post 9/11 world we live in, you don't want a single blemish on your record if you're applying for citizenship, I expect what is happening is the prosecutors are rattling their sabres as much as they can while the defense is simply holding tight for a trial, which the city does not want because of the gross embarrassment factor, and Turner etc. won't want because it will look like them hanging the guys out to dry, which is of course very bad for their demographics. So I expect that after things die down a bit more, charges will be dropped without prejudice. Or there may be a plea bargain for the misdemeanor "public nuisance" nonsense with community service entertaining kids at some hospital, to give the state a figleaf. But only if that doesn't mess with Berdovsky's immigration.

#101 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 08:57 PM:

#98:And the two pipe bombs were mentioned in news reports alongside discussion of the signs, by 2:00 on the day of the incidents. The news reports (eg CNN internet) said that they seemed to be a separate thing from the signs... so already this is the word they were getting from police.

Ok, I can believe that I didn't hear the news reports which mention the pipe bombs. It is interesting to note that the spin on the pipe bombs in the day after was they weren't sure if it was a separate thing from the signs or not. (e.g., it was the lead on the Boston Herald article which I had linked to earlier.)

I really think the overreaction here was after-the-fact from politicans, lawyers, and media -- not from the police/bomb squad response.

I would separate the rest of the police from bomb squad. I agree that the bomb squad did what they were supposed to do. Based on what I was hearing on the radio even at 5pm, after Turner had explained the situation, I think those who weren't the first responders were still grasping at some terrorist scenario which didn't exist.

(I will also say that if people really are starting to panic over LED signs, it's ok to tell them not to panic and it's ok to get that word out. That was not what I was hearing from officials.)


#102 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 09:08 PM:

CHip (#65): According to the Wikipedia entry, which is reasonably congruent with my memory on this particular topic, Hearst sold the Boston Herald to Rupert Murdoch in 1982, and he sold it in 1994 due to cross-ownership issues with WFXT-25. (Note also that Patrick Purcell is apparently a former News Corp exec.)

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Everyone wants to get into the act.

From the Manchester Union Leader (page one!):

PORTSMOUTH – Charlie Lord is a novice geocacher. He spends hours enjoying his new high-tech hobby, which he discovered by accident a few months ago when he stumbled across a small box in a mall parking lot.

He was pretty excited about planting his eighth "cache" on Friday - a mini Altoids box rigged with a magnet for sticking in a good hiding spot, well above snow level, for fellow treasure hunters to locate using a satellite-driven Global Positioning System and coordinates posted by Lord online.

As it happened, Portsmouth police were the first to find Lord's treasure box. And they got excited, too - but not in a good way.

Now Lord, 48, of Rochester, is wanted for questioning by police after his box was confiscated Sunday from an electrical panel outside the Shaw's supermarket at Southgate Plaza.

"I'm so embarrassed," Lord said last night. "I've heard of people who actually make their caches look like something more dangerous than they are. Then I look at mine, a little mint box. No wires. No gimmicks. I never intended to cause any trouble."

Portsmouth police Lt. Rodney McQuate said detectives are waiting for a call from Lord before they decide if charges - including misdemeanor disorderly conduct and causing a false public alarm - will be lodged against him.

Another triumph for the culture of fear. Yep, the terrorists have won, and they have Bushie-boy to thank for their victory.

#104 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 10:31 PM:

Geocaching as terrorism‽

[[splutters]]

God help us.

#105 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:16 PM:

Lisa, your numbers are \way/ off. (It's a good thing you didn't compound with that kind of estimate when you were working as a pharmacist.) A modest number of cops book enough overtime to earn six figures; IIRC, the record-holder was somewhere around $150K, and there was talk about reining him in because he was working 80-100 hours/week (raising the question of how effective he was on his regular shifts). And that's police and fire; most city workers earn a lot less than that (although most at that level wouldn't be involved with a potential bomb).

Note also that transit is run by the state, not the city; I haven't seen any figures about whether some of the $1e6 in reported costs was to cover the added bus drivers -- it's all been described as going to 3 cities.

#106 ::: Barbara Nielsen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 11:27 PM:

I'll admit to not reading everyone on this topic, but my favorite quote, read in this morning's EV Tribune , quoted Argus Hamilton:

The super Bowl in Miami Sunday was declared a national security event by the U. S. government. That means everybody was on high terror alert. As soon as the scoreboard started blinking and flashing, Homeland Security moved in and evacuated Boston

#107 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:03 AM:

Re:104 (geocaching as a misdemeanor) Oh, for God's sake.

So, anything that makes anybody nervous is now an act of terrorism? Time to dump Paxil in the water supply.

#108 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:15 AM:

JC@102: I agree that the bomb squad did what they were supposed to do.

Well, blowing up a device you haven't yet identified and then identifying it from the pieces isn't a terribly bright move. Imagine how ugly that situation would have been had the device been a dirty bomb or some other biohazard.

First-responders are supposed to go in suspicious as hell initially, agreed. But blowing up something you haven't identified to see what it is, is not good procedure. And you're not supposed to maintain high suspicion once you have information that indicates it's not needed. Maintaining a heightened suspicion level just in case does not make you safer; it makes you tired and prone to overreaction, which can be just as dangerous as underreaction.

#109 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:23 AM:

Well, blowing up a device you haven't yet identified and then identifying it from the pieces isn't a terribly bright move.

It is, however, standard operating procedure, and has been for decades at least, perhaps centuries.

There are lots of funny BIP stories which I might tell if you're interested. Like the time the Soviet Naval Attache sent a gift-wrapped bottle of Stolichnaya vodka to the American naval attache, only the Marine at the Embassy fluoroscoped the package and saw a cylinder of liquid....

(BIP = Blow In Place, which is what it's called when you blow up a suspected bomb.)

#110 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:32 AM:

It is, however, standard operating procedure, and has been for decades at least, perhaps centuries.

Which is, unfortunately, what happens when SOP doesn't keep pace with technological advances.

#111 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:44 AM:

Apparently the Boston Globe is lurking on this thread, but posting supporting material in its own space:
Pay exceeds $140,000 for hundreds of troopers

#112 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:46 AM:

#98 I absolutely think it's sleazy that Boston made Turner pay that much -- what HAS to be a fake number -- and I'm surprised in a way that Turner paid it.

I can't help wonder if there aren't accountants at Turner still on the floor, laughing so hard that it hurts at all the people who paid 2.5 million for advertising during the superbowl and only got 30 seconds of airtime.

#113 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:52 AM:

The thing with biowar and radioactive bombs and chemical warfare bombs is that ... they're fantasies. It's hard enough to get them to actually hurt anyone if they go off in the time, place, and manner of your choosing. Destroying them is a good way to make sure they don't function at all.

#114 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 09:36 AM:

A question for all you Americans: Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11 ? I mean, it's become a trope, a cliché.

Do you really wake up thinking, "What's today's Threat Level?"

Do you really think, like some people claim, that "Everybody hates us"? Isn't that a gloriously paranoid statement? Pretty close to "They are all out to get us!" (No, we're not. Relax.)

Sure, a large and powerful nation will always have identifiable rivals and enemies... but that's not as vague as "They", "Terror", "The Insurgents"... it's this creeping vagueness that induces paranoia and breaks down sanity, like the lurking horrors in a H.P.Lovecraft story which Cannot Be Described...

#115 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 10:00 AM:

Re #115:

I don't live in a state of fear. But then, I never bought into the whole "this is war" thing, even on 9/11. I figured this was a handful of criminals giving us one very bad day. War is when this happens to your country, in every city, day after day.

But then, the US really hasn't had a war "at home" since the Civil War. And that was only "at home" for a part of the country. Even Pearl Harbor wasn't an attack on territory that was fully integrated into the United States at the time.

The US sends its people away to war, supported by a safe and protected home front. It gives a rather odd view of war, compared to, say, my German relatives, for whom war is air raids night after night, invasion, and occupation. An attack that was minor in the perspective of, say, the Blitz, or the round-the-cock bombing of WWII is, instead, the worst on the scale of "modern bad things done to our country" because the US scale doesn't include the extremes of, say, the European scale of Bad Things. Or the African, or the southeast Asian, or just about any other major regional scale.

#116 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11 ?

I don't, unless you count fear of the current administration. I've always felt that those polls that ask respondents if they feel more or less safe since 9/11 aren't asking the appropriate follow-up: if they feel less safe, is that because of what terrorists might do or because of what our own government is doing?

I usually only hear about the threat level when I'm travelling--they have CNN playing constantly all over my home airport, so there's not really any avoiding it. I think every time I've left the country in the past five years they've been announcing a recent increase in the threat level. My only reaction is to roll my eyes, since it appears to have no more basis in reality than anything else Bush and Cheney have dreamt up.

I also don't think "everyone hates us", though I do think that Bush & Co. are giving the people in the Middle East in particular more and more reasons to hate us.

#117 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 10:32 AM:

A question for all you Americans: Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11 ? Do you really wake up thinking, "What's today's Threat Level?" Do you really think, like some people claim, that "Everybody hates us"?

In order: no. no. no.

But I know people who do. I know people who view the whole mideast as some vague threat "over there". They view the mideast as comprised of "Israel" and "everyone else", which was perfect for Bush's push to blame Iraq for 9-11, because it was somewhere "over there". (the notion that war is America's way of learning geography no longer applies) I know people who have in all seriousness suggested nuking the whole area down to a solid sheet of glass.

So, while I haven't run into people who say "everyone hates us", I do know folks who have said "everyone over there hates us".

#118 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 12:26 PM:

108, Aconite: Jesus, anything but Paxil! I still have nightmares about the stuff, not to mention a leg that hurts in cold weather from where I fell off the porch in a fit of vertigo.

#119 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 12:31 PM:

In answer to A.R. Yngve, I'd describe my daily attitude more as a state of heightened annoyance and cynicism.

#120 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 12:44 PM:

"Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11?"

No we don't, and I know few, if any, who actually think that way. The government (all levels, not just Federal), however, sees this "war on terrorism" as a convenient cash cow to get money pouring in from everywhere, for whatever oddball project they may want to fund.

The media, OTOH, sees the "war on terrorism" as a way to get ratings, since if they start off with a breathless reporter standing next to police gingerly checking a suspicious package, it gets people's attention.

Our local TV stations are big on this; about once a week they have "breaking news!" where they send up their helicopters and show live feed of the police investigating someone's backpack, or lunchbox, or just a cardboard box sitting where someone decided a cardboard box shouldn't be sitting.

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 12:53 PM:

115: No. Well...I guess I do believe everyone over there hates us, for certain values of 'us'. And to the extent that they do, they're pretty much right.

I'm worried that my US passport will be laughed at when I try to go abroad. I'm worried that all Americans (including me) will be targets, because of the abominable behavior of the present administration.

And there's the rub: I'm concerned that the Bush Administration has sown hatred where there was none or little, and deepened hatred where it already existed; that they've taken away what little they had to lose from people who already hated us; that even our staunchest allies will desert us, because we've become a pariah nation, committing crime after international crime in the interest of imaginary "security."

And also, I'm afraid that I'll be dragged away to the Lockholes for saying that I think Bush should be doing LWOP in a maximum security prison, and for Wanting To Punch His Pimply Face, as Tolkien put it.

I hope that some parts of the world, once we get rid of these homicidal psychopaths, will see that we don't really stand for that kind of behavior. But I strongly suspect that it's a fool's hope.

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:00 PM:

Xopher... From my own experience of having grown up outside of the USA, I've noticed that dislike of America usually goes way up when a Republican is in the White House. Is there causation, or correlation, or maybe a simple coincidence? You be the judge.

#123 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:06 PM:

It turns out that one of my good friends not only knows Stevens, but has been invited to several of his parties -- small world. She says that he's a nice, gentle, smart guy, fwiw.

(Alas, the "smart" didn't extend to thinking twice about a minor job putting up guerrilla advertising signs....)

#124 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:22 PM:

A.R. Yngve,

I'm not a resident of the States, but I spend a lot of time there—in Boston, in particular—and I notice the slightly more intense culture of fear when I cross the border.

Most individual residents of the States probably don't wander around looking at digital street art and thinking it's a bomb, or worrying about filing cabinets left out for pick-up, or fretting when they share an airplane with people whose skin is darker than theirs.

But the messages telling people that fear is a normal and sensible state in which to live are ubiquitous. Turn on any commercial radio station, and you'll hear ads reminding you that you should fear illness, death, theft, and penury, on both your own behalf and that of your loved ones. Take public transit and a voice over the loudspeaker reminds you that any unattended baggage is baaad, and that any suspicious activities should be reported to appropriate authorities. Fly anywhere, and you have to damn' near undress for the security theatre, and are, once again, bombarded with fear-mongering reminders that you may not be safe.

Say something in a reasonable tone often enough, and it sinks into the way people see the world. They stop hearing it as news and start hearing it as background. It becomes normal to be afraid, to distrust, to see a possible explosive in every unattended box or package, a potential killer in every stranger, to take steps to protect yourself.

Say something in a reasonable tone often enough, and back that tone up with enough authority, react to everything as though it was a deadly threat, and people become accustomed to the thought that everything might just be a deadly threat. It begins to seem normal to respond as though a lite-brite might be a threat.

#125 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Re: 115 - No, not everyone. I don't, but I know people who do. Some are co-workers, based in a small city in the Plains States where the likelihood of any sort of terror attack is vanishingly small. (Why is it that the people in the least danger seem to be most afraid?)

#126 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:39 PM:

#115:
I don't live in a continual state of fear about terrorism. I had some nervous moments right after 9/11, notably on my first flight afterwards, but I've been a twitchy flier for a while now, so even that wasn't much more nervewracking than usual. I couldn't even begin to tell you the threat level today or any other day. I didn't realize anyone took that as anything but a joke.

I think about security theater - which doesn't make me fearful, just royally pissed off - only when I have to fly or when going through Grand Central and seeing the soldiers standing around.

This may have something to do with not listening to the radio or watching television or using either as background noise. I just don't receive any of the "get scared" messages directly. Reading them secondhand in the newspaper, usually with commentary attached, just doesn't have the same impact.

My personal psychological demons may also have some protective effect - sort of like taking allergy shots.

#127 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:45 PM:

Xopher,

I think a lot of people differentiate between Americans and this administration. I know this is the case in Canada, though I make no pretension have having anything intelligent to say about the Middle East.

But it's pretty well known that most Americans don't like or support this Administration, and that the American people are bearing the brunt of their stupidity (as long as you're not a non-white trying to travel through the US from Canada or anthing).

I think once they are gone, being an American won't be any more difficult than it ever was, except in the Middle East.

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:48 PM:

About the security theater at airports... I'm not sure what I find the most annoying, between taking off my shoes, and stepping in a booth that blows jets of air in my face (and makes me feel like I'm in DisneyLand's Indiana Jones ride but without the fun).

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:50 PM:

Noelle 128: I hope you're right. Fortunately the only place I want to visit in the ME is Egypt, which I can't see being safe in my lifetime. So that's sad, but I'll live.

#130 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:56 PM:

Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11?

Speaking as one American individual -- No. However, I have spent a lot of time in the last 6 years being pissed off at my government.

#131 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Larry @ #126:
I sat at dinner over the holidays and listened to my aunt tell me with perfect seriousness that her small Oklahoma hometown was considered a major terrorist target, and that there had been another team of 9/11 hijackers specifically aiming for it. Naturally, the source of this information was secret. I just sat there speechless.

#132 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 02:14 PM:

I can't find an online image yet, but this morning's Boston Globe editorial cartoon shows a Mayor Menino, rendered in LiteBrites, holding up a $2M check.

#133 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 02:19 PM:

Re myself #133:

That was easy; not a permalink but currently here.

#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 02:29 PM:

Susan @ 132... You seem to have very 'interesting' relatives.

#135 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 02:52 PM:

#114: Aum Shirikyo committed an act of terrorism using a gas weapon. Manufacturing the sarin took a lot of money to develop the capability, and all it got them was a dozen dead and around a thousand affected to various degrees. Entities as yet unknown (for sure) perpetrated an act of terror using radioactive material recently. Polonium is difficult to handle and is likely to leave a lot of evidence, if not leave the agent responsible very ill for a long time, and again requires a large amount of money and development.

In contrast, Timothy McVeigh spent far less money, had to develop a far lower level of technology to achieve his aims, needed few if any accomplices, and managed to kill around 170 and injure 700. And, of course, many, many bombers have killed a countless number using no more than high explosives, VCR clock chips and nails, assembled on their kitchen tables or the equivalent. As far as terrorism is concerned, why fix what ain't broke?

#136 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 02:58 PM:

This whole guerilla marketing thing is not making me want to watch the TV show, but it's doing a great job of making me want a Lite Brite. (I always wanted a Lite Brite when I was a kid.)

#138 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:08 PM:

Susan, I tried to check out that virtual litebrite link, but the bombsquad detonated my monitor before I could get very far.

#133: Please forward said image if you find it.

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:42 PM:

Susan @ 137... (I always wanted a Lite Brite when I was a kid.)

See, that's what you got for spending all your money on books and stuff, thus depriving you from what your heart truly wanted. Let that be a lesson to you.

Anywway, you probably can get one on eBay. A couple of years ago, I found Mr. Potato Head in a regular toy store and gave that to my wife for Xmas, but we were both disappointed that it didn't include Angry Eyes among the accessories. I should have probably looked for the real thing on eBay. (Last Xmas, I played it safe and gave her an 8-inch tall UnderDog.)

#140 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:45 PM:

Susan @138: LiteBrite game currently circulating.

[chowdah!]

#141 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:53 PM:

Of course, with a little Sculpy and paint you can make ANYTHING for Mr. Potato Head. Or Mrs. Potato Head.

#142 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 03:57 PM:

Aconite #108: Time to dump Paxil in the water supply.

Judging by the way most people drive around here, they already do, on regular intervals. We'll have to stop filtering our water at home to get any benefit.

#143 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 04:07 PM:

AR Yngve #115:

No, I don't feel scared, worried or any of that, except insofar as all the security theatre stuff triggers my ever-lurking guilt complex (you know, the one that makes you act guilty and turn bright red when the teacher says "OK, who took Sean's pencil?"). Like Susan, I tend not to watch the news, except for the weather.

But then, I'm also very fatalistic and never wallow in "if only"; I suspect people who do get a bit more worried. I'm still angry about 9/11, but that's equally divided between the attackers and the authorities and what they've done about it.

#144 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 05:41 PM:

I live in NYC, so I do have a small, manageable amount of fear when it comes to terrorist attacks. I know that there are terrorists out there, some of them are clever, and I live in a city that's a target.

On the other hand, when I lived in Harlem, *everyone* outside of the US (I traveled a lot overseas) spazzed out, because everyone living in Harlem was a crack addicted mugger, don't you know?

I'd say that a lot of the rest of the world has an irrational fear of New York.

And we're still The Best Damn City In The World.

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Just for the amusement value:
At one point, one of the front-page ads linked by Google said 'Get a Criminal Justice degree and become a Counter Terrorist!'

I don't think I want to know how criminal justice is connected to counters.

#146 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 06:43 PM:

RE: 115.

No, I do not have an increased fear or terrorists, I have an increased fear of the U.S. government. I am afraid that my occasional, non-anonymous-enough blog comment, or the rarely-updated political blog I post will someday mean that I get rendered extraordinarily, or held like Jose Padilla.

I am angered, and disgusted by what we (collectively) have become. Most of my news comes from left-leaning blogs and radio shows, so attempts at making me fear are accompanied by their antidote.

I am saddened by the fact that those excrescences running the federal govermnet have broken my country.

things I worry about include: personal stuff, oppression of women, global warming and the destruction of the environment, how off-track this country has become and how to best get it back on track

things I don't worry about include: death or maiming by terrorist, being eaten by a cannibal clown, running for President

#147 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 07:13 PM:

Well, my recollection turns out to be seriously off on the figures I quoted, but correct on the ones I didn't. (This may duplicate other data; I don't know when I'll have time to catch up but wanted to get this out.) The last major story I found on police overtime in Boston is from 12 Mar 2005 (today's paper talks about state troopers); salient quotes:
* The current base pay for first-year police officers is $46,615 for patrolmen; $72,876 for sergeants; $84,829 for lieutenants; and $98,719 for captains.
* In contract arbitration, the patrolmen's union won a 14.5 percent pay raise over four years.
* Including overtime and private details, police officers are allowed to work 16 hours a day, 96 hours a week, and 320 hours a month.
* According to an independent budget commission, the average salary for a patrolman in New York is $66,000. The average Boston police officer earns $83,700.

I haven't traced the Googleable application cited above and don't know how to square its report of $45K to start with the above, but it's definitely closer to reality than $45 per hour base pay cited above -- $45 per hour \might/ be the standard fee for detail work, which AFAIK is considered overtime. (Note that detail work is an ongoing squabble -- Mass is one of the few states to require that all roadwork be guarded by a police officer, not just a flagman. The story quotes a large estimated savings if flagmen were used, but gives a wide range, no time period, and a cite to a conservative source.)

The link has subscriber details in it, so I'd rather not post (and suspect it wouldn't work for someone without my password); does anyone have the net-fu to make a link that other people can look at?

#148 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 07:36 PM:

Susan, thanks for the Lite Brite links!

We're having our own little 'issue.' A chemical plant about 6 miles from me (East Bottoms, down near the river) caught fire this afternoon. Paint, solvents, lacquers, etc. Firefighters cleared people living nearby (heavy industrial area but there are homes!!!!! within a block of the plant) and are pretty much just making sure a perimeter is cleared, there is no way they can put it out.

And I'm grateful that the plume's edge is north of my house, apparently a sap-like fluid is coming down from the cloud.

But no mention of terrorists. All employees are accounted for, the plant manager said he was out in the warehouse, heard something hissing and then saw flames. I'm wagering our recent temperature bounce is the probable cause.

#149 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:31 PM:

Do you, as individuals, really live in a "state of fear" because of 9/11 ?

The United States military has vowed "No more Pearl Harbors". We've spent untold billions on air defense, building a ring of early warning radars around the continent. And on September 11th, we were finally subjected to another air attack - and were completely incapable of mounting any sort of military defense against it: the attacks stopped ONLY when the terrorists ran out of suicide crews.

From this, I take away the certainty that there IS no military defense against terrorism. So, no, I don't live in a "state of fear". Any more than I live in fear of death by asteroid: if it comes, it comes. In the meantime, I wish my government would stop playing security theater, and let me go about my business with the minimum amount of disruption.

#150 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 05:05 AM:

Thanks for all the replies to my query; they were illuminating.
:)

May I add this observation: one particularly stupid trope about 9/11 is that it "Changed Everything".

No, it didn't.

What's so striking about comparing 2001 to 2007 is how little things have changed:

A) We're still dependent on oil from the Middle East...

B) The West is still rich and (more or less) democratic...

C) We're not under any real threat of a worldwide Jihad (where is that dreamed-of global army of fanatical soldiers of Osama bin Laden? It doesn't exist, and never will)...

D) The Middle East is still undemocratic and backward, plagued by incompetent corrupt tyrants and sectarian strife...

E) Everyone's still staring themselves blind at the Israel/Palestine stalemate, like a deer caught in headlights...

F) Nobody has yet come up with a credible vision for reforming the Middle East.

So is it All About Oil? For simply one reason it is: We all use it.

Stop using so much oil, and the power equation changes: the oil sheiks can no longer finance their oppression; the Middle East is forced to grow an actual industry and reform its societies; the Saudi "royals" and Iranian regime can no longer throw oil money at religious extremists and terrorists.

Of course, wait long enough and the problem solves itself: the Middle Eastern oil fields are going to run dry. (Too bad, though, if Iran and Saudi Arabia will have nuclear weapons when that time comes...)

#151 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 09:23 AM:

Re 150:
the attacks stopped ONLY when the terrorists ran out of suicide crews.

I disagree with this one. The attacks stopped once ordinary people on planes knew what was happening, and changed their response from the appropriate one for a hostage-taker who wants to negotiate demands, to one that matched the threat. Flight 93 was not a successful attack, it was one that was prevented, albeit too late to stop the attempt safely on the ground.

Absolutely nothing the government has done, or can do, can stop this type of attack. But since ordinary people have redefined what a hijacking is and how they should respond, this sort of attack is impossible, and even an old-fashioned hijacking is nearly impossible.

That's why the security theater is so pitiful, because every threat they try to control is one that is no longer potentially successful.

#152 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Have the security-theater people issued statements about what we're supposed to do if terrorists try the same trick again? (*) I was tempted to ask them, but they'd probably have assumed I wanted to know so that I could be prepared when I hijack a plane. Next thing I know, they'd have sent me to that resort in Cuba.

(*) And that trick worked because it had never been tried again.

#153 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 09:42 AM:

(Correction to #153)

"...And that trick worked because it had never been tried BEFORE..."

#154 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 10:21 AM:

Have the security-theater people issued statements about what we're supposed to do if terrorists try the same trick again?

I don't think they need to. Prior to 9/11, the assumption was that hijackers didn't want to die, so if you cooperated they wouldn't blow the plane up. The assumption now is that the hijackers want to use the aircraft as a weapon. So, passengers now know that if they don't stop the hijacking, the probability of dying is very high.

I heard a rumor of one airline pilot right after 9-11 telling the passengers prior to takeoff that if there is a hijacking, to mob the hijackers, throw stuff at them, attack them, fight them, overwhelm them with numbers, do whatever it takes to prevent them from gaining control of the aircraft. I believe the shoebomber was stopped by passengers before he could cause damage.

#155 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 10:23 AM:

E) Everyone's still staring themselves blind at the Israel/Palestine stalemate, like a deer caught in headlights...

well, not everyone.

#156 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 11:39 AM:

As a partial antidote to security theatre (and since there's a nutcase sending letter bombs in the UK, The Register gives the bomb disposal view of letter bombs.

Hint: If it's been sent through the mail, it's hardly likely to explode if you drop it.


#157 ::: squeech ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Bob Oldendorf @#150: Apparently all of NORAD was off line on 9/11 for some sort of training. This is the one reason I'm willing to entertain just about every nutjob conspiracy theory that comes down the pike.

#158 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 01:13 PM:

I'm reminded of another incident in which a couple of guys in Massachusetts were arrested for littering (and creating a nuisance), with massive police over-reaction. There's even some stuff about the "Group Dubya bench", where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army.

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" . It's got quite a catchy rhythm to it.

#159 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Ursula 152: Hear, hear. I started saying by about 9/15/2001 that there will be no more successful hijackings in the United States; they will all become crashes.

If someone ever tries to hijack a plane that I'm on, I hope I'll have the courage to do what's right: offer up my own life to end his as quickly as possible.

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:17 PM:

"I told you we shouldn't have tried to take over a plane carrying actors Steven Segal, Jean-Claude van Damme and Michael Clarke Duncan, but, nooooo, you wouldn't listen to me."

#161 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Xopher @ #169:

I doubt that they'll even become crashes. People are likely to be able to stop would-be hijackers before they get to a point where they could crash a plane, in the same way they stopped the idiot shoe bomber.

One security measure I think that might help would be to stop letting people choose their own seats. Have people place orders for the number of seats they want, and then assign them in random blocks, letting people know a few days before the flight. That would force a hijack team to either buy a block of seats (which may be a good warning) or else take random seating, and likely be spread out and easier to stop, rather than able to work together.

Picking your own seats lets hijackers start with an advantage, being able to choose seats that will be the best for their plan (e.g., aisle seats), and to make their plans knowing where they will be seating.

Another might be to move first class from the front of the plane to the back. Right now, buying first class tickets ensures you a spot fairly close to the cockpit. Even with random seating, with first class seats, the hijackers would be in a good position. Move it to the back of the plane, and the smaller, less randomizable section is far from the cockpit, while coach class is a larger section, so that random seating would put potential hijackers fairly far apart.

#162 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:33 PM:

Eek! that's Xopher at #160!

#163 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:43 PM:

#162 ::: Ursula L mused:
One security measure I think that might help would be to stop letting people choose their own seats. Have people place orders for the number of seats they want, and then assign them in random blocks, letting people know a few days before the flight. That would force a hijack team to either buy a block of seats (which may be a good warning) or else take random seating, and likely be spread out and easier to stop, rather than able to work together.

That sounds like a recipie for inconvenience and annoyance, not security. Anybody that's planning to hijack an airplane is going to finish their planning in advance - and has no reason to sit together rather than sitting apart. In fact, unrelated travellers are probably a better bet than groups, from the point of view of a terrorist.


It does, however, make it harder for friends to travel together - and for people to request seats based on various requirements (eg: a diabetic would likely prefer an aisle seat, so they don't disturb their companions on frequent trips to the bathroom, whereas somebody who plans to sleep through the entire trip is likely to prefer a window seat).

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:49 PM:

Ursula... This proposal is basically the way Southwest Air does it. You wouldn't like it, believe me.

#165 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:54 PM:

One thing to do would be to build all future airliners so that the cockpit has its own bathroom and an armored door between them and the rest of the passengers. Then the cockpit crew is never exposed to the passengers and a possible takeover.

If hijackers can't turn the airplane into a weapon, there's no incentive for that sort of attack.

#166 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:58 PM:

#162 and 165

Southwest only loads part of the plane at a time, so it isn't completely insane. Also, it means they don't have the overhead of a seat-reservation system, which is probably much more expensive than the basic 'we have X seats available' kind of system they're using.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:17 PM:

True, P J, but their sucky system of blocks A-B-C means that you have to be there long in advance if you don't want to be right by the toilet.

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Ah, Ursula, but it is.

#169 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Serge, they used to load starting at the back of the plane. It's been a while since I flew anywhere, so things may have changed.
(Last time, it involved a couple of hours on the tarmac at Burbank, waiting for some thunderstorms along the flight path to move. In July. In the afternoon. With the air-conditioning off. They opened the doors, so people could get up and get cooler air. By the time we got off the ground, everyone was a bit nuts: the safety lecture involved 'designer Dixie cups' dropping from the ceiling.)

#170 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:44 PM:

Ursula @ 162 - Moving First Class to the back would make it less desirable for the people who pay for it because one of the biggest benefits is being able to get off the plane first. Besudes, there's usually an easily identifiable Sky Marshall or two in First, right up front. They really make no effort to hide who they are, but at least these days they're dressing less formally and more like a normal air traveler.

Being able to pick a seat is a big deal for regular fliers. I always try to get an aisle seat near the front so I can get off and out of the airport ASAP. I also let myself be trapped by Continental and it's loyalty program affiliates so I can get on a little earlier and be guaranteed bin space. Checking bags = an extra hour in the airport (at least at Sea-Tac and Detroit).

Serge @ 168 - You can usually get at least "B" with Southwest by checking in online. "C" doesn't necessarily mean a seat by the toilet, but it almost always means a center seat.

I almost never fly Southwest (or JetBlue for that matter) because their fares are often substantially higher than the mainstream carriers. Go figure!

#171 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Xopher, could I borrow your time machine?

#172 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Serge @129: stepping in a booth that blows jets of air in my face (and makes me feel like I'm in DisneyLand's Indiana Jones ride but without the fun)

The air-blowing machine is optional; you can instead choose a pat-down search if you'd prefer.

The Slight Paranoia blog frequently details attempts to actually take advantage of this option, and to fly without showing ID (as per the 9th Circuit Gilmore decision); you may remember the author as the arrested terrorist-enabling mastermind behind the 'print your own boarding pass' website hysteria a few months ago.


Susan @132: I sat at dinner over the holidays and listened to my aunt tell me with perfect seriousness that her small Oklahoma hometown was considered a major terrorist target

Is that Norman OK perchance? The Zaccarias Moussoui / Nicholas Berg coincidence was bizarre enough, I could see it leading to crackpot Norman-was-a-target theories.

#173 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Fragano: No, but you can have borrowed it. I predict, with the benefit of hindsight, that you will have been going to borrow it yesterday, by tomorrow. Moreover, I recall that subsequently you will have previously returned it to me several days from now ago, before I originally obtained it by having it will have been given to me.

#174 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 04:13 PM:

Xopher #174: But at what point will I have remembered that I returned it to you? Before you gave it to me, that is.

#175 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 04:38 PM:

squeech said (#158):
Bob Oldendorf @#150: Apparently all of NORAD was off line on 9/11 for some sort of training. This is the one reason I'm willing to entertain just about every nutjob conspiracy theory that comes down the pike.

There was a training exercise scheduled for that day, but that didn't mean NORAD was offline. The best account I've read of what was going on at the NORAD center directly responsible for the northeastern US on that day is this Vanity Fair article, based on tapes from the control room and interviews with the Air Force personnel who were there.

#177 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 09:09 PM:

104 ff
The weekly email from geocaching.com includes the following announcement:

- o0o -

Important Geocache Placement Reminder
-----------------------------
This week, a marketing campaign for a television show was mistaken for a terrorist threat and the city of Boston, USA was temporarily shut down. For geocachers worldwide, this raises the issue of proper cache placement.

Please make sure to avoid placing a geocache in any location where it might be confused with something dangerous.

Important things to consider when placing or maintaining your geocache:
1. Make sure that your geocache can easily be identified as a geocache.
2. Use a clear container, if possible, so that the contents are easily identified.
3. Identify your container as a geocache by marking the outside of the container or attaching an Official Geocache sticker.
4. Make sure that you have permission from the landowner to place your cache on their property.

Please take the time to ensure that your cache is appropriately placed and contributes to the positive experience of others.

- o0o -

As well as a link: Geocacher expresses regret over leaving box behind Shaw's.


Although one of my caches is near a bridge, it's an old stone bridge, the cache is a clear box, and the placement is far enough away not to pose a threat (though close enough that a GPS atop the bridge registers a hit, even though you're 100 feet too high up).

And no one stumbles on it by accident. Enough people have trouble finding it when they know where it is.

#178 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Not to mention, abi, that you're in Scotland, not the wacky Paranoialand theme park on this side of the water.

#179 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 10:42 PM:

#177: Funny! ;)

#180 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2007, 04:10 PM:

I dearly love the Southwest seating arrangement. It's like the "do you pack your own grocery bags" debate. I like packing my own bags, I love picking my own seat.

In my experience if you print your boarding pass and checkin online you're always A group, but I don't have a printer, so I'm always B group. But it does not matter, since I want a window seat without the wings blocking the view, and the ones in the front have always been taken on any plane on any airline by people who bought their tickets four months in advance. So I'm always in the back anyway.

In the rare instances when there isn't anything good in the back, I get to pick the best option remaining for me. Instead of getting assigned a middle seat between a crazy smelly guy who thinks he should have both armrests and a woman listening to loud music, I can sit between two metrosexuals reading books. When I'm in a group of four we can arrange ourselves on the day, instead of having to email back and forth in advance. Yay!

#181 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2007, 06:09 PM:

Well.

The head of Cartoon Network has resigned.

Next, I assume, there will be a massive recall of Aqua Teen Hunger Force DVDs, followed by the animators being sent to GTMO for questioning.

#182 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2007, 08:40 PM:

Dammit, that sucks. Jim Samples shouldn't have had to fall on his sword over that crappy situation. So, the mayors of all the cities where that marketing campaign passed by completely without incident should now resign because their cities' emergency response forces didn't have a hissy fit over the litebrites, right? Ah, well.

#183 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2007, 10:37 PM:

Mad Lib

“The _(New England city1)_ _(unpopular profession2)_ Trial”

“We have evidence that you are a(n) _(unpopular profession2)_ and that you used your fell powers to bedevil the citizens of _(New England city1)_! I, _(name of government official3)_, must ask you the following questions:

A). Did you panic the _(impressionable group of people4)_ of _(New England city1)_ and cause them to fall into shrieking fits by means of infernal _(classic children’s toy, plural5)_?

B). Did you fly to _(famous overseas destination6)_ to meet with your master, _(legendary celebrity7)_, and kiss his/her _(body part8)_?

C). It is well known that _(legendary celebrity7)_ places his/her mark on his/her _(unpopular profession, plural2)_ and I can clearly see you have _(distinctive physical trait9)_. Does this not prove you to be a servant of _(legendary celebrity7)_?”

17th Century -- 21st Century
1. Salem -- Boston
2. Witch -- Terrorist
3. Cotton Mather -- Martha Coakley
4. children -- police/politicians/press
5. dolls -- Lite-Brites
6. The Witch’s Sabbath -- Afghanistan
7. The Devil -- Osama bin Laden
8. ass -- feet
9. warts -- dreadlocks

#185 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2007, 09:21 PM:

Southwest-style open seating wouldn't do what I was thinking of. Troublemakers would still have the opportunity to choose their seats to their advantage.

My thought was assigned seating, but rather than choosing a specific seat, when the order is placed people could request specific features, such as having their seats together, or a single aisle seat, or whatever. Then have some kind of program that will take the different requests and put them together in a random way. A day or so before the flight, e-mails or some other communication would go out with the assigned seating. People would be able to know where they were sitting, and have reasonable needs met, but anyone wanting to cause problems would not have the advantage of getting the exact seats they want.

I figure knowing the seats in advance would be a pretty big deal in planning - knowing who will sit where (leader to the front, so others can see when he or she signals?) or everyone near the front, the better to reach the cockpit quickly, or simply using that information to assign each person to a task that is convenient to their seat.

In the event of a problem, would-be hijackers would have a specific plan, while the ordinary passengers would have to improvise to stop them. Limiting the number of variables that troublemakers can control gives everyone else a better chance of being able to stop them.

As far as first-class goes, planes generally have doors at the front and the back. A shift towards loading from the back would let first-class passengers in the back be near the main exit, while still keeping the smaller, less controllable section farther from the cockpit.

#186 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2007, 10:02 PM:

Ursula@#186 wrote:
I figure knowing the seats in advance would be a pretty big deal in planning - knowing who will sit where (leader to the front, so others can see when he or she signals?) or everyone near the front, the better to reach the cockpit quickly, or simply using that information to assign each person to a task that is convenient to their seat.

... and I'll repeat again that it makes not much bloody difference where people are sitting. Why have your planning rest on something as variable as where you might end up sitting. That's just silly and bad planning.

Beyond that, your reasoning seems to be very much about security theatre to me - make everybody uncomfortable and annoyed for reasons that do nothing to improve overall security.

#187 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 12:07 AM:

The back of the plane is very bouncy and quite uncomfortable in turbulence. There is no way that first class passengers will sit back there.

#188 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 06:40 AM:

#185: Good God. A bong.

Will someone from New York kindly tell the panicked people of Redding, California that terrorists have no interest whatsoever in them, and never will?

#189 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 12:00 PM:

Well, the police in Redding were dealing with it as if it were a pipe bomb, which they've had to deal with a couple times before, so I don't think they over-reacted. It certainly doesn't look like your average bong, and all they cordoned off was a section of a parking lot.

If they try charging stoners as terrorists, however, I'll rank them as power-rapist ninnies right up there with Martha Coakley and the Boston PD.

#190 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2007, 05:34 PM:

Great moments in Blowing Stuff Up:

SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) -- Three CD players hidden under a cathedral's pews blared sexually explicit language in the middle of an Ash Wednesday Mass, leading a bomb squad to detonate two of the devices.

Authorities determined the music players were not dangerous and kept the third one to check it for clues, said police Capt. Gary Johnson.

The CD players, duct-taped to the bottoms of the pews, were set to turn on in the middle of noon Mass on Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

The recordings, made on store-bought blank discs, featured people using foul language and "pornographic messages," Johnson said. He would not elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.

Church staff members took the CD players to the basement and called police, who sent the bomb squad, Johnson said.

The bomb squad blew up two players outside and kept the third one to test for fingerprints or DNA and trace its components, he said.

Too bad if the fingerprints and DNA evidence they're looking for were on the ones they blew up, eh?

The war on terror is working ... everyone's terrified.

#191 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2007, 05:46 PM:

Again with the stoopid! If I see something that I think is a bomb, do I touch it? No! Do I take it to the basement myself? Hell no! I clear everybody out of the building and wait for the bomb squad! My God, what a bunch of idiots.

#192 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2007, 02:27 PM:

Boston Police today found a suspicious object chained to a lamppost in the Financial District, and detonated it.

Apparently terrorists are planting traffic counters on public streets to induce panic.
Via BoingBoing. I must apologize becuase the only link I've found is from Faux News.

#193 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2007, 05:50 PM:

Is the City of Boston going to demand a multi-million dollar compensation payment from its Dept of Transportation? Inquiring minds want to know.

#194 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2007, 05:52 PM:

oh.
my.
gawd.

#195 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2007, 08:00 PM:

On a lighter note...

The local CW station runs ads to promote the comedies it runs in syndication.

Recently they've been running ads featuring something (IIRC a CW logo) blinking on and off.

One of the ads showed the words "Blinking lights" and the phrase "You gotta have a sense of humor".

Another showed "We've Got Prizes" followed by "Boston didn't have prizes".

(From memory, so may have minor details wrong.)

#196 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2007, 09:12 PM:

#193: Fox's camera truck happened to be in the area because they wanted a financial district backdrop for a roving reporter market crash story. So they filmed the whole thing. Live.

I've been trying to find another source, and have heard that the CBS affiliate ran the story, too. Nothing yet on the newspaper web sites, though.

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