Friday, February 02, 2007

Boston, Mooninites, and Terrorism

Bill and I live and work near the site of the latest “terrorist” attack. The Mooninites “attacked” Boston the other day when Cartoon Network through intermediaries used one of these ill-tempered cartoon characters in a poorly planned viral marketing scheme.

It's been in the national news, but here it's all the radio talk show hosts and reporters are talking about. A very quick synopsis: two slacker-type performance artists got a gig to build and install some flat LED signboards that are about 1.5 by 1 foot in size. Other artists in nine other cities did the same thing.

Someone in Boston noticed and reported one near a transit station. Boston and State Police called out the riot squad, bomb squad, SWAT Squad, and every other squad imaginable. They shut down the city for most of the day.

The signboards proved harmless, and ended up being the talk of the town—that and an impromptu press conference in which the two artists talked only about hair (one has a set of dreadlocks that must be seen to be believed).

In some ways, the police response was proper. The signs had batteries and wires and needed to be checked. In other ways, the police went overboard. Authorities in other cities, including New York City, examined the signs and realized they were just signs. Boston leaders explain that Boston is sensitive to terrorism because two of the 9/11 planes left from here. Still, Boston cannot be more sensitive than New York is about this issue.

There were no winners in this idiocy, but it points to freedom in a post 9/11 world. We’ve already turned air travel into a statist’s dream. All that searching, patting down, magnetometers, government agents, baggies for toiletries must make someone happy. It doesn’t put a smile on my face.

Are we going to get so worried about terrorism that we close down cities when someone hangs up a sign that remotely looks like an “unattended package?” Are we going to fear that a garage-sale flyer is a coded message to a sleeper cell, that a gun club meeting is a militia gathering, that a truck parked too close to a building will explode?

It’s a dangerous world. Terrorists, foreign and domestic, want to attack us again. They could do so with a soda bottle full of a biological agent. They could turn a car into a bomb even more easily than they could make a bomb look like a small signboard. We have to be vigilant, but let’s not turn our cities and our lives into something like our airports.

And, I promise not to flee from every unattended soda bottle I see.

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