Saturday, February 03, 2007


Coloured lights can hypnotize; Sparkle someone else's eyes

By now, everyone knows about the “terrorist devices” that closed down part of Boston the other day:

They placed 38 of the devices on buildings, under bridges and in other spots around the city, and each earned $300. The devices featured flashing lights in the shape of a character from the cartoon show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” They were arrested Wednesday night and charged with placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic, and disorderly conduct.

Of course, the guys who placed those things did nothing that I can remotely construe to be criminal, regardless of whether one thinks it was funny or ill-advised. It strikes me that Boston is just trying to save face, in the light of their ridiculous overreaction. The things had been around for a while, and none of the other cities called out the National Guard:

Ms. Powell said the company had intended the devices, which resemble Lite-Brite boards, as unconventional advertising in 10 cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to promote the late-night cartoon and a coming film. The light boards had been in place for two to three weeks, and there had been no complaints from other cities, she said.

But the only thing I really want to note is the part that is to me the most amusing:

Other cities made sure that the devices were being taken down Thursday. In New York, the police contacted Interference Inc., which told them that at least 20 devices had been placed in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The police found two devices, at West 33rd Street and 12th Avenue, stuck to metal panels under an overpass, and said they believed that the others were removed by passers-by.

Yes, that's right: In New York, most of the devices were stolen. Watch for them on eBay.


scouter573 said...

There are some interesting questions here, once one gets past the face-saving reactions.

When does a marketing ploy stop looking like a ploy and start looking like a threat? Suppose they had been backpacks containing logo stuff (T-shirts, water bottles, iPod skins, whatever)? Will the next set of bad guys disguise their next nasty device with sparkling lights? The mailroom instructions at a Major Corporation warn the staff to beware of badly wrapped packages, but why do we assume bad guys can't wrap packages? All packages are now suspect.

On the other hand, this is madness. If I am reduced to a quivering mass by my knee-jerk reactions, then I can't live my life. A couple of blinking cartoon boxes are the cost of a free life.

Maggie said...

Apparently a terrorist doesn't need to make a real bomb, if s/he wants to terrorize Boston. S/he should make something as conspicuous and silly as possible, advertising one of our decadent American products.

I remember the unibomber. His bombs blended in. They were things you would naturally touch. Bombs that disguise themselves as everyday objects are scary.

But now we're afraid of everything. I don't fault the Boston authorities for checking out the threat and removing the bombs, but I do fault them for arresting these two schmoes and making such a ridiculously big deal out of it. I think they were embarrassed, and they made it worse.

People don't understand how small the chances of a terrorist attack are, here in the United States. It's a large place, there are a lot of us, and there haven't been that many terrorist activities in the last half century. It's frustrating. Each one of us is probably going to contract heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Probably. Better than one in two chance of getting one of those, compared to a chance of dying in a terrorist attack that is somewhere closer to 1 in 100,000. And we have control over what we eat and whether we smoke or sunbathe. We don't have total control, but we can work on the odds a little. But how many people will tremble at the thought of a terrorist attack, and gladly hand over their liberties, and then waddle off to Dunkin' Donuts for a giant extra extra and a muffin?

This is why terrorism works, I suppose, because we are not good at understanding long odds, and we want to gain control over all things that threaten us.