9.29.2007

Leave Your Bomb Shirt at Home

by Molly Kenney

In this era after Sept. 11, sometimes free expression has its limits.

Take for example, the case last week of Star Simpson, a student from MIT. Simpson arrived at Logan Airport in Boston sporting an explosive new look. Authorities say Simpson was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with a blinking circuit board and 9-volt battery attached; she was also carrying a lump of putty in her hands. An airport employee gave her directions. But authorities say when Simpson was asked about the machinery on her shirt, she walked away without a response. Instead of picking up her boyfriend as planned, Simpson was promptly arrested at gunpoint. A computer science major, she claimed her shirt was art and that it was designed to attract the attention of potential employers at a job fair earlier that day. What a stupid move, Star.

The Constitution protects her right to free expression, and her explanation makes sense (she was probably a big hit at the career fair). But she probably could have found other ways, ones not involving a threat to national security, to express herself. Her MIT degree, though still in progress, suggests that she is intelligent, and intelligent people should be able to solve the bomb plus airport equation. (But obviously, not always. For more on that theme, please see: "Osama Owes Me a Fifth of Rum.")

As Senator Larry Craig can attest, an airport is not a good place to get involved with the law these days. While constitutional rights are not shed at the security gates, fighting the system once inside ensures inconveniences for everyone. Simpson will have to go through personal security checks for the rest of her life, if she ever gets off the no-fly list. Other airport patrons were surely inconvenienced and frightened as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took down this perceived threat. Her artwork distracted TSA personnel from their taxpayer-funded jobs, leaving several old women to pass through security without getting accosted. After a stunt like that, Simpson was lucky that the TSA folks were the only ones with guns. Harried travelers are not the most understanding people, especially not when they’re from Boston.*

The incident makes students, computer scientists, and artists cringe at their occupational association to such stupidity. Such actions will not make Simpson attractive to employers, and she can forget any chance of a computer science position that involves government security and classified information. MIT probably isn’t pleased with the negative press either. Simpson, as well as her MIT classmate who suggested to The Boston Globe that Simpson may not have heard of the 9/11 attacks and their connection to Boston, aren’t poster children for intelligence.

*The author is a native Bostonian.

(The photo of Star Simpson was obtained via boingboing.)



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