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Friday, September 21, 2007
Boston cracks down on another LED "hoax device"
Star Simpson, a 19-year-old MIT sophomore, was arrested at Boston's Logan International Airport early this morning, reports the Boston Globe's Local News Updates blog. She was taken into custody outside the terminal by state troopers carrying submachine guns. "Thankfully, because she followed our instructions," Major Scott Pare of the State Police said at a press conference held at Logan, "she ended up in our cell instead of a morgue."
What was Simpson's violent crime? Did she hurl a "whitish, lumpy substance" into the Charles River, where it exploded? Nope. She was "wearing a device on her chest that included lights and wires." Hmm. Where have we heard this story before? Yes, fellow Mooninite survivors, history is repeating itself.
Remember how the Lite-Brite-esque "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" ads were described by the MSM? The sinister devices were "composed of electronic circuit boards with LED lights attached." Breathless descriptions of Star's "contraption" are making the rounds:
* "a fake bomb strapped to the outside of her sweatshirt"
* "a computer circuit board, wiring and a putty that later turned out to be Play-Doh"
What was the device? According to the Globe, "affixed to the front of her black sweatshirt was a pale beige circuit board with green LED lights and wires running to a 9-volt battery. Written on the back of the sweatshirt in what appeared to be gold magic marker was the phrase 'socket to me' and below that was written 'Course VI,' which refers to the electrical engineering and computer science program at MIT."
Simpson's "hoax device" (love that term) was a crude, homemade example of what's known (everywhere except in Boston, I guess) as "illuminated clothing." Like this basketball jersey worn by Stuff the Magic Dragon, mascot for the NBA's Orlando Magic:
Or this fun tuxedo worn by Chris Caffery, guitarist for the Trans Siberian Orchestra during a recent holiday concert tour (hopefully they didn't fly via Logan Airport):
This sort of thing is called "wearable tech" or "cyber fashion," or even "apparel with light element securement means" by MIT students, hackers, and others. Geeky! But certainly not dangerous. (In fact, the technology is useful for safety apparel.)
UPDATE: Do not even think about using this backpack for your carry-on items. Do not fly wearing this jewelry. Or this barrette. This sweatshirt also seems iffy. So does this t-shirt. Wooden clogs, a burlap smock cinched with a piece of hemp... that should be OK.
UPDATE (7 pm): Meredith W. asks: "Could you please ask your newspaper to replace the misleading, somewhat inflammatory photo of the inside of the student's shirt with one of the front so that readers can see what it looked like to the security people? At the very least, they should label the picture as being the inside of the shirt so that readers aren't mislead." Readers, based on the blurry TV screen shots that were posted to various websites earlier today, I also thought the circuit board and battery must have been affixed to the inside of Simpson's sweatshirt. (Who would affix them to the outside?) But the state police say the circuit board and LEDs and battery were on the outside of the sweatshirt. Now, Boston.com has posted an excellent photo gallery offering a much clearer view of the sweatshirt. Decide for yourself.
UPDATE (7:08 pm): Jeff H. says: "What if this thing had turned out to be a bomb? What if a terrorist had a bomb with light components because it was homemade? What would you be saying if there were 50 dead people at Logan this morning?" Readers, I got a lot of emails like this one after the Mooninite scare. Also, after the bomb squad detonated a traffic counter device outside Post Office Square. One of these days, perhaps someone will try to blow something up in Boston using a bomb covered (for counterintuitive reasons) with brightly flashing LED lights. I will feel bad when that happens. I also think Simpson was foolish to wear a circuit board and battery on the outside of her sweatshirt when visiting Logan; but no more foolish than someone who thoughtlessly utters the word "hijack" or "bomb" while visiting Logan. (If you say something like "Why are they confiscating my hand lotion? How could anyone hide a bomb in there?" you will also meet the troopers with submachine guns.) In other words, it's highly doubtful that Simpson was trying to hoax anyone. I'm glad that the troopers at Logan are vigilant; but they should not have arrested that poor young woman.
UPDATE: (1) Read the comments on this Universal Hub post about Simpson. And read the comments on this Boing Boing post, too. (2) A blog called Hub Politics disagrees with my defense of Simpson. (3) But Bostonist says I offer a "compelling defense."
WHAT'S YOUR VERDICT? Click here for a roundup of opinions on the subject.
PERFORMANCE ARTIST? Conservative editorialists and bloggers are scapegoating Simpson as part of a vendetta against performance art.