Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Ridiculing the Ridiculous

TheBomb.jpgThat’s what “ridiculous” means, worthy of ridicule. If you’re fond of etymologies, it comes from the Latin word ridiculus, which means “laughable.”

Right after 9/11, I decided to show my patriotism and devotion to freedom by getting on airplanes. I got great cheap trips all over the world. Sadly, this means that my answer to “what did you do during The War On Terrorism, Daddy?” would have to be that I lounged on beaches and stayed in swanky Mayfair hotels. However, during the first of my trips (to Hawaii), we were gripped not only in airplane-and-bomb fever, but white powder fever, too. A couple of times a day some hotel had the hazmat crew from the fire department visiting.

A genuine overreaction that happened at about that time was that somewhere someone had called in suspicious white powder and found that it was a crushed Altoid. Despite the fact that snorting a crushed Altoid would sure make your eyes water, this was a newsworthy gaffe. I took to referring to all such false alarms as “someone stepping on an Altoid.” I made the point to say with a wry grin to the obviously bored and irked fire department guys, “What, did someone step on an Altoid again?” and got some laughs. I even heard people people start to pick up my line.

This week, we have something else happen that is ridiculous. Bruce Schneier has a good overview of the events. My summary: Cartoon Network puts up magnetic signs with blinking LEDs advertising some cartoon in ten cities, including Boston. Photo of one of these in Cambridge is the accompaning photo. After two to three weeks, people in Boston notice them and think, “Oh, my God! Blinking lights, wires! It must be (cue organ) terrorists!” They shut down half the city. They postured, they arrested the perps.

This brouhaha is worthy of ridicule for two reasons. First, they were embarrassingly wrong. Second, they were two weeks late! Comparing Boston’s Finest to the Keystone Kops is a grave insult to the memory and bravery of those immortal boys in blue.

I have a new word for the vocabulary of Thomas Menino, Deval Patrick, Ed Markey, and others. That word is, “oops.” It’s an easy one, devoid of ‘r’s. You can say it. We’ll forgive you. Really. I speak for the President of the United States when I say that admitting you were wrong will improve your popularity. It will have brightened up an otherwise depressing week.

For the rest of us, after they say, “oops,” we can forget the exact details (as I have forgotten the exact details of the Altoid), simply refer to future incidents as “finding a cartoon sign.”

My army of loyal fact-checkers have come up blank, so I may be misremembering and am likely misquoting, but I remember Asimov having Hari Seldon say, “There is no tower so high, nor throne so mighty that it cannot be rocked by laughter.” If I’m wrong, then maybe I said it. If you know who did, tell me, and I’ll post an update here.

Nonetheless, it’s time for us all to stop being terrorized, it’s time for us to ridicule the ridiculous.

5 comments on "Ridiculing the Ridiculous"

  • beri says:

    I live in Boston. The objedcts that set off the anti-terrorism squad looked like a bomb. They were placed on bridge supports, had wires and such sticking out of them, attached to things that looked like detonators and looked nothing like the photo accompanying your post.
    I agree completely that most such “threats” are nonsense, but this was originally a legitimate response to an object that looked very threatening.
    You need to separate a legitimate and healthy skepticism about “white powder” and “unknown packages” from something that is hidden or nearly hidden and that looks on the outside like a bomb.

  • Adam says:

    So, have you seen pictures of these things, or are you trusting the police? Where are there pictures that show detonators? What sort of rotten marketing campaign hides their marketing?

  • JAS says:

    I live in Boston as well. And guess what? They don’t look like bombs. Just because something has wires doesn’t make it a bomb – it makes it a device that obviously needs some form of power. You know what it did look like? A LITE-BRITE. Yeah. A Lite-Brite with a cartoon on it.
    And that quote about us having a system that works? Maybe that would have rang true about 3 weeks ago when they first went up, but this is just ridiculous.
    Here’s some Fox news coverage of the two arrested marketers on YouTube:

  • Orv says:

    Seeing a Ryder truck parked under an overpass ought to worry people a hell of a lot more than seeing a circuit board with some lights on it.

  • Tamzen says:

    Unless it’s on Storrow Drive where it just means the idiot can’t read and has gotten his truck stuck. happens about a bazillion times a year in Boston.

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