s skippy the bush kangaroo: we're all star in the dope show

skippy the bush kangaroo



Thursday, September 27, 2007

we're all star in the dope show

star simpson, who sounds like the cartoon character host of the view, was the mit student who was arrested at logan airport last week for wearing a "hoax device," which airport police thought was a bomb, but was really just geek computer art.

mit waffled its way into a non-committal condemnation of star's choice of wardrobe. the school's official reaction on the day of her arrest, en toto:

mit is cooperating fully with the state police in the investigation of an incident at logal airport this morning involving star simpson, a sophomore at mit. as reported to us by authorities, ms. simipson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.
star's fellow students rallied behind her, condemning the university's condemnation of her, beginning with a demonstration on campus earlier this week:

approximately 30 students gathered yesterday afternoon to protest the administration’s handling of controversies involving students. while the majority of the protest was focused on the star a. simpson ’10 arrest, the discussion also touched on administrative reactions to the sodium fire on the charles river and the felony charges filed against hackers found in the mit faculty club.

the protest, which took place outside of pritchett dining in walker memorial, consisted of students carrying signs such as “question the media,” “wait for the facts,” and “support your student.” students also carried a protest letter that had been circulated across the campus.
the letter urges mit susan president hockfield to back simpson 100%, as opposed to its official statement:

despite the fact that many of the news reports are calling the circuit board an intentional “hoax device,” it is clear to me that star’s intentions were entirely benign. star’s own statement that the device was an artistic name tag for career fair and her complete cooperation with the authorities indicate that she had no intent of causing any trouble — she was simply going to the airport to meet her boyfriend.

...the mit news office’s press release which stated “ms. simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport” is entirely misguided in its approach. regardless of whether her actions were reasonable, naive, or even “reckless,” as the news office put it, mit has an obligation to its students — an obligation to give its students a high quality education, which includes helping students handle matters that might interfere with receiving such an education...particularly when all the facts were not in, it would have been prudent to gather information about the situation and talk directly to star before issuing an unsupportive statement.

the notion that a small exposed circuit board and a handful of play-dou warrants deadly force is foolish given the thousands of large computer circuits which pass through airport security every day. surely, mit cannot be condoning the use of deadly force against an mit student whose behavior may have been a bit eccentric but had no characteristics that were aggressive or dangerous.
the tech - mit's oldest student paper - also calls for the school to stand behind star:

simpson faces a five-year prison sentence if prosecutors prove that simpson’s sweatshirt made people reasonably believe it was a bomb, and if they also prove that she wore it in order to scare people. assistant district attorney wayne margolis should realize that the latter half of this charge — intent — is clearly missing and should drop the case.

whether or not the suffolk county district attorney’s office chooses to continue its case against simpson, the institute should support her. mit administrators are in a unique position of authority to tell the police and district attorney, the press, and the general public that the device posed no possible danger, and that, for people here, carrying breadboards, leds, wire, and batteries is hardly unusual. by remaining silent and unsupportive, mit risks losing the good will (and the dollars) of its technically inclined alumni and future alumni. worse, if mit gains a reputation for prioritizing its image over its students’ well-being, talented prospective students will be turned off by the institute.
brandon keim of wired science (no, that's not a movie starring kelly brock and michael anthony hall) takes a similar position:

are you fucking kidding me?

what happened is so grossly wrong on so many levels that i hardly know where to begin. since when did a circuit board on a sweatshirt look like a bomb? since when did suicide bombers walk around with bombs on the outside of their clothing? if the people in charge of protecting us are stupid enough to think this, how hard would it be for real bombers to fool them? more importantly, since when was it okay to blow away someone who posed such an ambiguous threat? and if she really did have an easily-detonated bomb, wouldn't shooting her -- rather than, say, paralyzing her -- pretty much guarantee its explosion?

one could argue that she should have known better. fine, she should have -- boston's already infamous for being stupidly, senselessly scared. but that's not the point. in a world full of science and technology, many more people will merit the same suspicion as her: people who use wearable electronics, researchers who let a test tube fall into their flight bag ... the possibilities are endless, and probably not something that anyone would think of until they'd been hauled off for interrogation or surrounded by trigger-happy cops.

(hell, just the other day i nearly carried a green goo-encrusted test tube through terminal security; it originally contained a novelty drink handed out at a biotechnology conference. and just ask steve kurtz about this sort of thing.)

what is wrong with us? what happened to common sense? will scientists and technologists soon live in fear of someone point a finger at them in a public place?
[ed. note: 10 zen monkeys tells us the story of the bioterrorism charges brought by the justice dept. against the above-mentioned mr. kurtz, after paramedics, arriving at his house to tend to mrs. kurtz's heart attack, found petrie dishes and scientific thingies that scared them so much that they called the police. also, mrs. kurtz died.]

so, because most people in charge nowadays are luddites when it comes to science and technology, suddenly the rest of us have to keep our heads down and minds firmly ensconsed in the 19th century as well? (make that the 16th century...there were actual machines at work in the victorian age, and who knows how many stereo-optic latern shows could be used to blow up america? the dept. of homeland security doesn't want to take that risk.)

unfortunately for the intelligent among us, there are plenty of people who are ready to side with those who would keep us stupid and in fear. charles memminger of the star (no relation) bulletin of hawaii (where simpson was raised) writes:

showing an exquisite lack of sensitivity for the victims of suicide bombers, not to mention an exquisite lack of concern for her own personal safety, star simpson (no relation to o.j.) apparently considered her bomb sweatshirt a piece of art. (her mother says star might have accidentally worn the sweatshirt to the airport. presumably star's "faux jar of anthrax" sweatshirt was in the cleaners.)
tho we admit to enjoying the "faux jar of anthrax sweatshirt" joke, we are appalled that mr. menninger would ascribe context of "fake bomb" to the computer circuit board jewelry that star wore, where there obviously was none.

if star were one of the code pinks or billionaires against bush or other street theater demonstrators who purposely wore a fake bomb to an airport to make a political statement, we would be less sympathetic. there is, after, common sense that needs to be attached to all communication, even political protest.

but star wasn't making a statement, at least, not to paranoid right-wing america. she was simply wearing her goofy geeky computer art. goodness, if personal fashion is now a reason to get arrested, we can think of a thousand more deserving subjects than an mit geek.

are we all supposed to go back to papayus and stylus just because those in authority can't tell what a bomb looks like? apparently so, according to the monday morning generals in the war on terra.

the students get it. the scientists get it. the luddites don't.

too bad for us the luddites are in charge.

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posted by skippy at 4:40 PM |

11 Comments:

I suspect this has more to do with a complete inability to do investigative journalism by the investigative journalists. So instead of shipping their jobs to India or China what we get is parroted press releases over and over again. It's getting to the point where the closest thing we have to real journalists are the dregs chasing Britney and Paris and their ilk around, scouring their pasts for dirt and digging through their trash for titillating tidbits. If the public was interested in world events and national and local politics and wasn't so mesmerized by celebrities, maybe we would find our news media would actually TRY.
commented by Anonymous sean on li, 9:11 PM PDT  
This is part of the general pattern that exists in Boston. First was a protester demonstrating by a downtown recruiting station arrested for a possible bomb because he dressed up as the Abu Grhaib prisoner hooded, standing on a box with wires attached to his fingers. Then it was the Mooninite invasion advertisement for that Cartoon Channel movie. Now it's an MIT student with a circuit board on her jacket. Next it will be you because you're wearing an elaborate watch.
commented by Blogger gmoke, 10:26 PM PDT  
commented by Blogger Moulton, 3:18 AM PDT  
Guess I better tone down the earrings I wear when I'm traveling. You never know when two gold hoops are going to look like a bomb.......to an idiot.
I'm from Boston, actually just south of Boston. Over-reactions are gonna happen in Boston for a long time. This city let the passengers on-board at Logan Airport on 9/11 ... the whole country looked at Boston security and they were embarrassed, emasculated, and humiliated beyond words.

Now Boston, because of 9/11, now the security is going way, way, way, way, overboard to make up for the humiliation of 9/11. They don't want Boston to be the launching pad of another terrorist attack. And of course if Boston appears to be lacking in security ... the tourists won't come here.

That's the rationale behind their over-reactions. And I certainly don't agree with it. Obviously, the security, the TSA, the FBI, and the state police are too fucking dumb to know a fake-bomb for a real bomb. I didn't then, i don't now, and I never will have any respect for the law enforcement of this state. I am pissed off at them AND the media for their treatment of Star. She definitely has my support, and I will rally behind her if need be.
commented by Blogger Thomas, 9:33 AM PDT  
Gotta also factor in a lot of people who are way more scared than they should be. The cops and the prosecutor know they have no intent, at this point they're trying to bully Star. And the newspapers, with their fear-mongering headlines, call it a "fake bomb," even though they know it was not such, because, well, that sells newspaper.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:46 AM PDT  
The star affair proves that MIT should be offering Private and Multi-Instrument flight training as accredited courses.
Subjecting students to "Class B watering holes" like Logan misses the point of the advancement of technology, and that is Self Empowerment.
commented by Blogger nickjacket, 10:40 AM PDT  
"This city let the passengers on-board at Logan Airport on 9/11 ... the whole country looked at Boston security and they were embarrassed, emasculated, and humiliated beyond words."

If I was feeling charitable, and I'm not, I wouldn't point out that based on performance so far that there is reason the hijackers chose Logan.

"And of course if Boston appears to be lacking in security ... the tourists won't come here."

However it appears while security in Boston is incompetent but makes up for it by busting down innocent people. That doesn't make me want to go to Boston anytime soon.

"Obviously, the security, the TSA, the FBI, and the state police are too fucking dumb to know a fake-bomb for a real bomb."

Well six years after 911 that is the issue in a nutshell isn't it?
commented by Anonymous gibbon1, 11:42 AM PDT  
A "what the fuck is that" from some paleo-citizen who never installed a hard-drive or video card is possible, but is it too much to ask that the people we authorize to use guns in our defense are members of our modern society and not some idiot hillbillies?
commented by Anonymous The Pale Scott, 1:53 PM PDT  
Guess I better tone down the earrings I wear when I'm traveling. You never know when two gold hoops are going to look like a bomb.......to an idiot.
commented by pissed off patricia, 8:19 AM PDT
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your comment made me remember that i have a pair of earrings made out of two fuses--really cute, but maybe not safe to wear?
does anyone know where to see a pic of the 'bomb'?
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jenny'o
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 12:33 PM PDT  
there's a pic of the "bomb" on my original post here.
commented by Blogger skippy, 11:26 PM PDT  

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