Letters to the Editor

Simpson Lacked Common Sense

I applaud MIT’s decision to label Ms. Simpson’s actions as “reckless.” Any statement in her defense by MIT would have been viewed as arrogant and irresponsible. The circuit board worn on her shirt with LEDs in the shape of a star may be viewed as a cute, quirky means of self expression on MIT’s campus. However, the same item worn to Logan International Airport is a much more serious matter. Sadly, in this post-9/11 world, she is fortunate that she was not seriously injured or killed by law enforcement officers misinterpreting her “art.” To assume that the general public and law enforcement can accurately determine whether such electronic devices have any intent to harm is unrealistic and dangerous. I am certain many other MIT alumni share my appreciation for Ms. Simpson’s zeal for creative self-expression, while at the same time shake our heads in pity for her lack of common sense.

Airport Security Bigger Threat Than Simpson

I find reports on the incident at Logan Airport very disturbing especially in view of the fact that electronic circuit board art is actually sold as clothing accessories across the country and even at San Jose Airport. Given this current situation, an item of art you legally buy in the airport terminal in California may get you killed on arrival at the Boston airport. In this age of fear, we need better consistency throughout the country especially from those holding the power to use lethal force. It is particularly disturbing when one considers how close the situation came to becoming lethal. A similar incident happened in Washington, D.C. about two years ago where officials pounced on a Chinese man outside the Union Station and detonated his luggage to “neutralize” his Walkman CD.

Personally I was once refused check-in at the Dakha Airport in Bangladesh for attempting to hand carry a removable DEC harddisk as the officials were certain it was a land mine. At least there, I did not have to stare down the barrels of a SWAT team while someone determined whether it was a danger or not, or have someone blow my data to bits in order to feel safe.

MIT Should Support Simpson

I am really disappointed by Chancellor Clay’s statement regarding Star Simpson’s incident at Logan. The term “reckless” implies that Ms. Simpson was aware of how the combination of the objects allegedly in her possession would be perceived by the security at Logan, but acted in total disregard nonetheless. From all I have read in the press in the last two days, there is not a shred of evidence that Ms. Simpson possessed such a state of mind at the time. At this time, it appears that Ms. Simpson will be charged with a felony carrying serious criminal penalties. For MIT to issue such a statement to a community from which the jury hearing this charge would be drawn can only be described as “reckless.” MIT’s statement will seriously compromise Ms. Simpson’s chance to a fair trial.

Couldn’t MIT have said “MIT is cooperating with the authorities in every possible way. We do not think it appropriate for MIT to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation”?

Being Rational About Simpson

9/11 showed us that air security people had been lax about hijacking, so a fully fueled airplane could be used to start a large, deadly fire. The appropriate response was to strengthen cockpit doors. The political response was to launch eavesdropping, and profiling, and extra-judicial detention, and to prevent small amounts of liquid from being brought on board. Note that the concern shifted from the use of an airplane as a bomb to the simple destruction of an airplane after the near-impossible manufacture of explosives (while ignoring the greatest threat to an airplane: checked luggage).

If a person actually has a bomb in an airport, the aim should be to prevent them from getting into a plane and taking off. But isn’t that the role of the security gates? Simpson was confronted with machine guns, for wearing a printed circuit board while wandering around the concourse. I think that was an irrational and fear-mongering move by security staff who don’t need those weapons in the first place.

I also wonder if such a circuit board could genuinely be mistaken for a bomb. If not, the gun-toting security staff are dangerously under trained. (Not to mention paranoid. Wearing something in the open should be less of a concern than something in a briefcase, which of course they don’t confront!) And it would call into question the inappropriate word “hoax” in many news reports.

Bin Laden achieved the terrorist’s goal of having us live in fear and act irrationally against our own interests. But that is only because we are willing participants in that game. Eventually, rationality must prevail, and I hope the MIT community will be in the forefront of that awakening ­— not fall in line with the childish thinking that views a piece of art as a deadly threat. In fact, I hope more students will wear electronic art in public!