Daily Illuminator

February 3, 2007: Rant: Ten Pounds Of Stupid In A Five-Pound Bag

Normally I think of my Texas legislators and city government as the world's dumbest and most venal, and my Austin media as the world's most obedient, crowd-following lap-dogs. Once in a while, I'm reminded that it's the same wherever you go.

Case in point: the squawking and posturing coming out of Boston over the advertising sign "bomb scare."

Bad enough that some poor paranoid found one of the little signs frightening enough to call police. (Or was it even a serious call? Was the caller just having stupid fun? I've read nothing to indicate that anyone has followed that up.)

Bad enough that the city bomb squad was sent out full force to do the bomb squad thing to a little sign. (No blame to the policemen doing their jobs. If their bosses tell them that a Barbie doll might be a bomb, it's their job to go blow Barbie up by remote control, and the "you've gotta be kidding!" comes when it's all over.)

But where it started to get scary was when police were sent all over Boston, tying up traffic, to "defuse" the other signs. Why isn't anyone asking just what happened there? After one sign turned out to be . . . a sign! . . . why couldn't Boston's finest stand down? Does the city's emergency reaction system not have a "False Alarm!" signal? Did some twit go "Well, THIS one isn't a bomb, but maybe the NEXT one is!" After all, they had blinking lights on them. Everybody who watches "24" knows that bombs always have blinking lights.

And how did they locate more than a dozen little signs, in that huge city, so quickly, if a dispatcher wasn't working from a list to start with? And did somebody in authority really make a list of sign locations without knowing that they were . . . just signs? Maybe there's an innocent explanation, but if any of the media has asked Boston authorities that question, I haven't seen an answer. I probably won't. If the local media were to start asking hard questions, they'd have to admit their own role in creating and maintaining the panic.

It gets worse. Having blown a silly error - or, at best, a routine check - into headline news, the Boston authorities, with the instant cooperation of the state attorney general, went on TV to congratulate themselves on the SPEED with which they had blundered . . . blaming the whole thing on the two guys who had been hired to put up the signs, and on Turner Broadcasting, which they were promoting! The mayor of Boston had the shameless gall to invoke 9-11.

It still gets worse. They ARRESTED the guys who put up the signs. They blustered about arresting Turner staff in Atlanta for violating Massachusetts law; apparently the Attorney General of Massachusetts doesn't know that her authority ends at the state line.

I should point out that those signs have been up for quite a while in nine other cities . . . including my own home town of Austin, where the main downtown street was closed a few weeks ago because the authorities got all upset about a few dozen dead birds . . . and nobody turned a hair. But in Boston, some politicians screwed up, and rather than admit it, they're arresting sign-posters and spinning themselves as heroic defenders.

"It had a very sinister appearance," Attorney General Coakley told reporters, according to CNN. "It had a battery behind it, and wires." One wonders how the Attorney General walks past a Radio Shack without going into cardiac arrest.

It would be nice to see the Attorney General and the Mayor apologize to the citizens whose money they wasted, offer a settlement to the people they arrested on knowingly false charges, apologize again for daring to use 9-11 to excuse their own incompetence, and resign. Don't hold your breath.

Now, is there any good news? Yes, a bit.

  • When the men who put up the signs were brought before a Boston judge and charged with placing a hoax device, he pointed out that those charges required intent, and there was no proof whatsoever that they had intended to do anything except put up an advertising sign. Good going, Your Honor. Thank you for not letting the politicians panic you.
  • When reporters badgered the two men for comment, they refused to take any questions on any subject except 1970s hairstyles. That's treating the charges with the seriousness they deserve. (Yeah, they put up lighted signs without permission. Minor civil offense. This is not my day to get all excited about trash advertising. This is my day to get excited about the idiots who claim to be "protecting" us.)
  • As I write this, I see that Turner Broadcasting is apologizing for something that's in no way their fault, and offering to reimburse Boston for the half-million dollars wasted on the scare. That's a very classy response. I would not have been so forgiving. (Yeah, they'll make back their half-million dollars by selling one more advertising spot on Adult Swim, but still, they get style points for turning the other cheek. )
  • And I just noticed that it gave Randy Milholland a good Something Positive.
-- Steve Jackson

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