Friday, September 21, 2007

Opinion Poll: Star Simpson, Airport Scare

I don't usually cover "current events" in this blog, but I decided this one was suitable, being both local and technical. By now I'd imagine almost everyone has heard of MIT student Star Simpson's near-fatal fashion faux pas at Logan Airport. For background and two opposing views on the subject, see the Machinist blog entry and this other random blog entry.

I imagine the crowd reading this blog is more "technical" than the average, so I'm curious what you all think. Is Star out of touch with reality, are the police in a state of extreme over-paranoia, or both?

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that she was socially detached from worldly things as sometimes in the mind of you being in transition of teen to adult mental state development. In my opinion on her behalf,in creative minds,there are moments of lapse in focus of what remains in focus of all others in serious matters as these.

Anonymous said...

Why would you wear anything suspicious to the airport? I don't even have nail clippers and Gillette Razors in my carry on these days. I think some people are being presumptuous by saying that it's obviously not a bomb. I don't know anything about improvised weapons, so I could be wrong.

The reports indicate that she had playdough in her hand too. It sounds more like she was trying to make the airport security look like idiots. Come on. You see a person with some weird construct on their chest with simulated platic explosives. After all the crazy stuff that's been going on the past week it's amazing they didn't kill her. I agree the police over-reacted to the Aqua Teen promotion but this lady exercised extremely poor judgment. There's a big difference between a lite brite with a cartoon character and this.

jelani said...

I don't know this girl in particular, but it seems very plausible to me that a course 6 (i.e EECS) undergrad at MIT might think a breadboard with LEDs that light up to symbolize your name might be a cool idea (the lights were in the shape of a star; her name is Star). In fact, I think it's pretty cool. I can't be 100% confident that I would have realized it's a bad idea to have worn it to the airport, though hopefully (for my sake) I would have realized it. : ) Anyway, I think it's terrible that the media is making her out to be a villain without understanding her state of mind.

Anonymous said...

The key issue seems to be whether she was just unbelievably clueless or deliberately provocative. My guess is the latter, but I've known some people (e.g., with Asperger's syndrome) who might legitimately be totally unaware of how someone else might react.

I agree with the anonymous commenter who suggested that she was probably trying to make airport security look like idiots. Admittedly she couldn't possibly have been mistaken for an international terrorist, but she could plausibly have been a mentally ill engineer who wanted to go out with a bang. As far as I can see, police reacted entirely appropriately.

Anonymous said...

ahhhhh......

Aspergers syndrome in action...

Anonymous said...

Aspergers is a poor excuse. Hell, Harvard had a president with Aspergers, and it didn't cause him any trouble.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? You guys are going with the "crazed chick wants to cause a lot of trouble" strategy? Doesn't is seem entirely more plausible that she simply was unaware of the connotations that a circuit board and a 9V battery have? (and by the way, don't get me started on the common man's perception that wires + battery = bomb)

Mistaking playdough for plastic explosives? Since when do plastic explosives come in pink, yellow, and bright green?

I don't have a problem with airport security people doing their job and checking out suspicious activity, but charging her with a hoax bomb threat simply to cover their asses (see: Aqua Teen promotion) is really unreasonable.

Anonymous said...

I think that she is a bit crazy. I mean who in their right mind would wear that kind of thing into an airport. art project or not. It's no paranoia. And I went to highschool with her. That's the scary part.

geez said...

Unlike what the "machinist" seems to think, airport security reacted correctly (well, in general, I wasn't there) - you see a person with some strange electronic device and what may seem like explosives, and you try not to give them a chance to explode taking out anyone. The problem with the need for this security isn't with the people applying it, at least in this case.

However, charging her with a serious offense seems rather stupid, too. If you can prove she was trying to be provocative (I've no idea of her motivations) you can fine her. Better yet, send her to do some community service teaching kids stuff - she seems good with that kind of thing. Locking people up in prison should be reserved for real criminals, not students with strange ideas. If she indeed wore that contraption numerous times in the past, however, she may well enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

Gilad.

Kitten Herder said...

I don't think she was being 'crazed' or intentionally provocative in any way. I just think she was being a clueless idiot. There are a lot of those out in the world. Some of them end up on the news. Most just incite rises in blood pressure for those around them.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, anyone trained to recognize bomb threats would see in a second that she isn't one. A real terrorist would not wear a bomb on display and with flashing lights!! This only goes to show that the law enforcement are not receiving proper training, and yet feel comfortable using firearms. This is very, very alarming.

Whether her behavior was reckless or not is just sooooo completely not the issue that I am amazed that this is what's being discussed!

Anonymous said...

A real bomber would try to blend in not wear a flashing star on her chest. These are CYA charges to prevent a lawsuit. The only 'hoax device' here is the charges brought against her.

mollishka said...

It looks like a lot of people here are missing the key point that she wasn't intending on flying; she was going to the airport to pick up a friend. Very different situation.

Anonymous said...

Was the airport shut down or disrupted? If so, then throw her in jail -- for an equal amount of time that she wasted for thousands of others. If not, then let her go.

Anonymous said...

A real bomber would try to blend in not wear a flashing star on her chest.

I thoroughly disagree with this. Sure, an Al Qaeda suicide bomber intent on killing as many people as possible isn't likely to wear a flashing star. However, the mere existence of Richard Reid proves the inadequacy of saying "No terrorist would be stupid enough to do that." Furthermore, sophisticated terrorists are far from the only threat. I can easily imagine a deranged engineer with a grudge against the world deciding that an airport would be a really attention-getting place to make a last stand. Exactly how much like a bomb does it have to look to justify using force?

Anonymous said...

Up to the point the police determined the blinkie device was harmless, they were doing their job. Arresting Star Simpson for wearing geek art was way out of line. The State Police major's comments that Simpson was lucky to still be alive were flat-out offensive.

This whole affair has been inflated because a clueless AP reporter wrote "fake bomb."

Anonymous said...

Arresting Star Simpson for wearing geek art was way out of line.

I don't think she should go to jail for years or anything like that, but some community service sounds reasonable to me.

The State Police major's comments that Simpson was lucky to still be alive were flat-out offensive.

They sound objectively true to me. If she hadn't cooperated, she might well have been shot (I probably would have shot her myself under those circumstances if I had been one of the police officers, although of course I would have felt terrible about it when I found out she was harmless).

This whole affair has been inflated because a clueless AP reporter wrote "fake bomb."

Yeah, this part really bothers me. I think what she did was grotesquely irresponsible, and it may well have been deliberate (in the sense of "I bet people at the airport will freak out over this battery before I reveal to them that it's just a harmless electronic nametag."). However, there's no reason to think she seriously intended this as a bomb hoax.

Pall Melsted said...

Let's say someone is wearing those bluetooth earpiece thingies and doesn't respond to any warnings from security because he is yapping on the phone. Would the police be justified in shooting him down if it sort of looked like a bomb?

pbg said...

It seems to me perfectly believeable that she would wear an electric sweatshirt to the airport given that she wasn't going through security, and maybe wasn't even planning to go inside the building; and that she's quirky enough to carry around modeling clay; and that she didn't answer the airport employee's question because she was annoyed that the airport employee didn't answer her question or something like that. Yes, it's unlikely---but remember you are reading about an incident that made the national news, so that unlikely circumstances become likely.

Given the available information, I don't see how anyone can be confident of her true intents one way or the other.

The police and the public have to expect that some, even most, people who cause bomb scares do so unintentionally and should not be prosecuted. Did she cause the bomb scare? Or was it the fault of the police who failed to correctly distinguish bomb from non-bomb? False positives are a fact of life and it's not necessarily anyone's fault.

pbg said...

[The State Police major's comments] sound objectively true to me. If she hadn't cooperated, she might well have been shot ...

Yes, but the "very lucky to be alive" comment is ridiculous. I don't think it was luck that caused her to cooperate with the police pointing guns at her!

Given that she cooperated, if there was any chance of her being shot in response to the way she behaved, this clearly indicates a major problem with the system, not with her.

Anonymous said...

Star Simpson affair reminds me of something that happened when I went to Junior High School in NYC-- some kids were doing live-action gangster role playing, one got so into the game that he came with a trenchcoat and a toy gun to lie in wait for one of his classmates at the subway stop. Only problem was the toy gun looked too realistic (as I recall it was actually a water gun, but it was painted black and from 15 feet away could be mistaken for the real thing), this was the late 70s when lots of random people did get shot in NYC subway stations, and an undercover cop happened to get a glimpse of what looked like a real gun, and drew his real gun on the kid.

No one was hurt; ended up with the cop crying he was so scared that he almost killed a junior high school student playing a game. He was really angry at the kid, of course, and I would be too. But the kid and Star Simpson made the same mistake-- they didn't realize they were crossing from a world where no one would ever assume they had violent intentions unless they jumped up and down and started killing people (the junior high, or MIT-- remember, this was pre-Columbine :-) to a zone where there was a deployed security force that was in the business of daily assuming that some people had violent intentions, weapons, bombs, etc.

Yes, both Star Simpson and my junior high school classmate knew this at some level, but my junior high school student knew he was carrying a water gun (he didn't think of it as a hoax gun), and Star knew she was wearing geek art (no engineer would ever think that was a hoax bomb). It never occurred to them that someone would see them as a threat.

I don't remember how my junior high school classmate was punished, it might have been a certain number of hours of community service. Sounds about right. Even if you don't think he should have been punished for almost getting himself shot, think about what would have happened to that poor police officer if he had indeed shot him. Would he have been charged for shooting someone who was "clearly" unarmed? Almost certainly. Did my classmate create that situation through incredibly poor judgement? Absolutely. If people assess this situation correctly and realize that Star is not and never was a security risk, maybe they can sentence her to a good number of hours of community service at Logan, helping carry people's luggage back and forth from baggage claim for the TSA to check whenever someone forgets and packs too much shampoo and they have to open a bag again :-)

Anonymous said...

The pieces have to be put together here, and maybe my memory of the stories I have read is inaccurate. But I believe at one point, before any police got involved, some official asked her what she had on her shirt and she did not respond. If that is correct, the reaction of the police is entirely appropriate. (OK, not the "lucky to be alive" crack, but give the cop a break. They have to make lots of snap judgments about suspicious people, and they get called on them all the time by people who are unlikely to get killed on the job.)

Anonymous said...

The police are somewhat paranoid. However, what she did was stupid because she can now be prosecuted and sent to jail for simply making some sort of political statement or whatever it was she was trying to do. I hope she goes to jail and she reconsiders whether or not it was worth it.

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly like to know more of the facts about what happened -- without that, I can't be sure. But my guess is that it was a complete overreaction by the police. My understanding (which, again, might be incorrect) is that she was wearing some LEDs on her sweatshirt and waiting outside for her boyfriend. Why exactly should she think she'd be the cause of suspicion? LEDs aren't dangerous, she's not hiding them, and she's waiting outside? If the police thinks that's suspicious, they should check it out, but their guns would be what I'm worried about in that situation.

Just so I'm clear, though, here's where I'm coming from. I generally travel with 2 small kids. The last time I got on a plane, I had a bag filled with electronic items (Leapsters) and play-doh. Should I be worried that they'll be coming at me with guns to check me out? I missed that memo. It seems to be like my bag could be as suspicious as her LED display, if not more so, and that worries me.

Also so I'm clear, the last time I went to the airport, I had TSA yell at me because while waiting in the security line I hadn't given my 4 and 6 year old their boarding pass to hold so the agent would know which boarding pass went to which person. Apparently they don't understand that giving a 4 and 6 year old their boarding pass to hold is a bad idea. I'm not convinced these are the wisest or best-trained bunch.

I'm glad the police/airport security are there and are suspicious. I don't mind them questioning people and keeping an eye on things. But if they're going to pull guns on anyone who seems suspicious, where suspicious means whatever they choose it to mean, they'll become a bigger danger than the danger they're trying to prevent.

jelani said...

for simply making some sort of political statement or whatever it was she was trying to do

Wearing LEDs in the shape of a star is not making a political statement (or anything else deep). It's being stylish. She just had bad foresight in failing to notice that the average post-9/11 American believes wires and bombs are the same thing (especially when they're at an airport). I'm also curious about this whole playdoh commotion. Is playdoh supposed to look like anything suspicious? Before this incident I personally wouldn't have thought twice about holding some playdoh at an airport...not because I'd want to be an instigator but because I honestly didn't know there was a problem. So can someone please explain to me, what does playdoh look like that's bad? And considering I didn't know playdoh looks like something bad, I can't blame this girl for not knowing.

Anyways, now I'm just waiting to hear the CNN report of complexity theorists being arrested at customs for discussing PCPs. Headline: "Insert_school_here professors arrested at LAX after pretending to be smuggling narcotics".

Anonymous said...

So can someone please explain to me, what does playdoh look like that's bad?

Explosives. Whether plastic explosives actually look like playdoh, I can't say, but they are certainly in the same broad category. This is what I find really suspicious here. If she had had just the nametag, I could more reasily have accepted it as a mistake. Carrying playdoh doesn't prove anything, and maybe she's just incredibly clueless and unlucky, but it makes me think she's toying with bomb stereotypes. (It's one thing to grab your nerd sweatshirt on your way out the door without thinking. When you grab your playdoh too, alternative explanations start to seem more likely.)

Thomas said...

Here are two more facts for those with bleeding hearts for Star Simpleton ...

A vast majority indeed feel she is solely responsible for the situation per national polls.

Also, check out this excerpt from the Boston Herald From an article titled 'D’oh! Play explosive could’ve detonated a tragedy with pranks gone wild' ... " “What was the Play-Doh all about?”

The state cop who posed the question was not on duty at Logan International Airport on Friday morning when his colleagues trained their machine guns on Star Anna Simpson, a 19-year-old goofball genius from MIT.

But his intimate knowledge of Logan’s fail-safe procedures left him more disturbed by the Play-Doh than the circuit board or blinking lights fastened to the front of the sophomore’s sweatshirt.

“You train for hours and hours,” the cop explained, “you train against the possibility of numerous (explosive) devices. And when it comes to preparing for plastic explosives, what we use to simulate C-4 is Play-Doh. It’s the same texture."

All those who sympathize for Simpson are strongly urged to try the same stunt.

jelani said...

All those who sympathize for Simpson are strongly urged to try the same stunt.

The point is not that we should recommend people go to the airport with playdoh and breadboards and do what Star did...the point is that it's conceivable that it just slipped Star's mind that this would be a bad idea (though maybe unlikely, I could see it slipping mine), so what's the crime? If the proposed crime is a bomb hoax, where's the proof that the whole thing was intentional? In this country we presume people innocent until proven otherwise, and for good reason, and the media as far as I know hasn't once given evidence that this was intentional.

A vast majority indeed feel she is solely responsible for the situation per national polls.

And their opinions are based on which facts...? The result of national polls shouldn't determine "the right thing". Sixty years ago 90% of Americans polled were against interracial marriage, but so what?

arnab said...

Though I think it was totally reasonable for Star Simpson to have been treated at the airport like she was, the thing that's been boggling me is the idea that there should be charges pressed against her, even after it has become clear what the situation really was. Is it a crime to carry electronics into an airport? If it is so, then why are people permitted to take laptops inside an airport? Isn't there much more space inside a laptop-sized box than the front of a sweatshirt? I don't understand the logic at all. Either make everyone entering the airport go through some kind of detector, or don't press charges against someone who hasn't done anything illegal.

Anonymous said...

don't press charges against someone who hasn't done anything illegal

I'm not a lawyer and don't have an informed opinion, but it's not clear to me that her actions were legal. Actions that a reasonable person would view as threatening may be illegal even if there was no intention to threaten. And we can debate whether a reasonable person should be threatened by a circuit board and playdoh, but the evidence suggests that many reasonable people in fact do react that way (or, alternatively, that most people are not reasonable).

Joseph Dunphy said...

"Why would you wear anything suspicious to the airport?"

To a paranoiac, anything can be suspicious.

"I don't even have nail clippers and Gillette Razors in my carry on these days. I think some people are being presumptuous by saying that it's obviously not a bomb. I don't know anything about improvised weapons, so I could be wrong."

I'm an electrical engineer by training. They are not being presumptuous. The laws of physics would have to be amended for that thing to be what some said it looked like (an Iraqi style roadside bomb) - nothing is present that could possibly be a receiver. For crying out loud, it's a circuit board. Every single component is out in the open for everybody to see.

"The reports indicate that she had playdough in her hand too."

Those reports seem to change on a minute by minute basis, and as a citizen of a country that uses a jury system, you really shouldn't be in the habit of simply taking the prosecution's word for what the facts of a case are.

Joseph Dunphy said...

"All those who sympathize for Simpson are strongly urged to try the same stunt."

I strongly sympathize with anybody killed in a car crash. Does it follow from this that I'm a hypocrite if I don't try to get into a car crash of my own?

It's the same logic.

Anonymous said...

Some context,
One of my friends at MIT almost dated Star last year... and the fact of the matter is that she's just an EE nerd who had a nifty name tag and the silly putty was being handed out that day at the MIT career fair

sd said...

Excuse me, but what was her point??
Why are tech people going around in circles when they have no reliable data to draw a conclusion from? She's not talking, and security did the only thing it could do under the circumstances. She created the conundrum. Maybe that's what she wanted - to see what knots society would tie itself into on her account.
I'm ticked...but willing to hear what she has to say.
C'mon MIT - you're supposed to be our first line of defense against the East, right?
sd

Joseph Dunphy said...

Actually, sd, we have photographs of the alleged "infernal device", so as much as you might not want to accept this because you're having so much fun parroting what you've heard others say, we most certainly do have "reliable data".

As for the engineering profession being America's line of defense against the east - don't count on it. We're getting a little tired of getting shafted and being expected to smile about it. Loyalty, my friend, is a two way street. Or were you just expecting the ones from MIT to be happy little doormats, and not the rest of us?