It’s all about the words you choose

There’s a news story that’s going on right now that is really, really pissing me off on several levels.

Here’s the story: Star Simpson, a student at MIT, went to the airport to pick up a friend. On her jacket she had a breadboard with several LEDs and a nine-volt battery that powered them. Now, I’m choosing my words deliberately here, because word choice is one of the things that’s so aggravating about the way this story is being reported. In case you’ve never played with one, a breadboard is a plastic board with holes in it and metal circuits inside. It’s used for prototyping electrical circuits – it’s re-usable and much easier than printing up your own printed circuit boards. But I digress.

The cute little artsy breadboard was identified by airport personnel as a possible bomb. Star was arrested, had to pay $750 bond to get out of jail, and is currently charged with “posessing a hox device”. The news media is consistently using the phrase “fake bomb” in their reporting.

Here’s what really gets me: security from the airport confronted this girl and arrested her. They saw the breadboard up close. They decided it was a potential bomb. Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the entire world has implemented lots of extra security measures in airports, but the people who are supposed to be the experts in security can’t tell a bomb when the see one – or don’t see one.

There are people walking around airports with machine guns and the authority to potentially send you to prison without legal counsel for the rest of your life right here in the United States, and they are not very bright. This should make everyone worry.

14 Responses to “It’s all about the words you choose”

  1. Ham Says:


    I understand your concern about the TSA not being the brightest, but they don’t carry machine guns and DO NOT have the authority to send you to prison without legal counsel.

    As a matter of fact, this performance artist already has a defense attorney. Maybe you don’t agree with what the authorities have done, but would you want some one to walk into an elementary school with a “fake” handgun (one that isn’t so obvious until you walk up to the potential shooter)? Will you be the one to walk up to the “artist” to see if the gun is real or fake?

    Just some points to ponder…

  2. jw Says:

    “As a matter of fact, this performance artist already has a defense attorney.”

    You can tell the author wasn’t refering to Star Simpson because she said POTENTIALLY send you to prison without legal counsel

    While it is true that in this particular incident that person has counsel, they do have the authority to send you to prison and not let you even the know the evidence against you. All they have to do is declare you an ‘enemy combatent’ and they can hold you for as long as they like.

  3. jw Says:

    My issue with this is also about the wording. It is a lot different to say, “Student arrested for having a fake bomb” than it is to say, “Student arrested for wearing an LED”. Calling it a fake bomb is sensationalistic and irresponsible news reporting.

  4. Sea Anemone Says:

    my head hurts…

  5. Rachel Says:

    I agree with you, David, on the point that sensationalism and fear-mongering are irresponsible motives for news reporting and law enforcement. Makes me seriously wonder just where we are going in this handbasket.

  6. Lolajl Says:

    Do you really want to take the chance that the “fake” bomb could in fact be a real bomb?

  7. Administrator Says:


    Part of my point is that the LCD badge she was wearing doesn’t even look like a bomb.

  8. IRV Says:

    It’s the Bush administration’s inability to handle anything! This is the worst administration in our history & they want to rewrite the constitution & strip us of all our rights.

  9. Bridget Says:

    While I agree with IRV’s assessment of the Bush administration, the news story I saw said that Star was wearing something strapped under her clothing, simulating a suicide bomber, and that she was playing with playdough (which may not have any resemblance to plastic explosives, (I wouldn’t know) but is not something one ordinarily carries to the airport, either). The fact that this woman is described as a performance artist seems to indicate that she was going for a reaction; perhaps she misjudged the kind of reaction she would get.

    And, yeah, I’m scared by the increasing number of government agencies that can lock you up and throw away the key without having to prove anything in court. Used to be only the IRS could do that…..

  10. Kath Says:

    I saw the headline for that story and dug a little deeper, reading several different news accounts. Unfortunately, most people don’t do that and the sensationalized version is what they get.

    From what I understand, the shirt/jacket/whatever was created for a purpose (not surprising for an MIT student) and she was still wearing it when she went to pick up her boyfriend at the airport. (“Look what I made honey, itdn’t it cool?”) I agree with David, the board looks about as much like a bomb as those little flashing light pendants/earrings/whatever people wear during the holiday season.

    I’ll admit to being a bit biased against the TSA because I can’t seem to get through an airport without being thoroughly screened, wanded, singled out, etc., and if you saw me you’d understand how ridiculous that is. I do think they overreacted and turned something simple into a major issue. So if as an artist – she manages to get PR coverage for this, well then good for her! And I certainly hope her attorney is a good one.

    I’m just wondering how long it will take some other artist to get the breadboard design up on Cafe Press!

  11. kate Says:

    Hmm… as a Bostonian, I am amazed at the level of stupidity that boston area students present. I think I take the approach of “an ounce of prevention” can save a lot of lives. A few years ago (like 10 or 12?) a few college kids got on the T with very real looking play guns. The elderly woman who had a heart attack on the train probably didn’t think it was art. I am all for freedom of expression, but not when it jeopardizes the safety of the public as a whole. I think you might have a different opinion if it were your airport, in your town.

  12. Administrator Says:

    To those of you who disagree with my statements and have responded to me personally, I would just like to say – Thank You.

    This is one of those very emotional and political issues that can easily lead to name-calling and invectives, but everyone who’s responded to me has been very courteous and more interested in presenting their viewpoint than denigrating mine. I appreciate that.

  13. Matt Says:

    Whatever you may believe about sensational journalism and the overbearing government, you must realize two things: 1) this girl is a student at MIT – must be pretty smart. She should have been smart enough to understand that a rational person does not wear an electronic device that could possibly resemble a bomb into an airport. TSA does not pay too well so we cannot expect these people to be smart enough to tell the difference between a real and fake bomb.
    2) This was described in most of the stories I read as a piece of “art” and all of the anti-Bush crowd has been screaming about the First amendment and freedom of expression. The first Amendment does not protect speech that can cause physical harm to others. This is the equivalent of yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. You remember that day about 6 years ago when 2 planes took off from Logan and killed hundreds of my co-workers? So do the security guys at Logan. I applaud the TSA for arresting her and anyone else who is either stupid enough to indicate that they could take down a plane or anyone malicious enough to actually try to do so. Arrest them, control them, then sort out the details. The inconvenience of one or two people with bad judgement id much less important than the lives of the thousands traveling through that airport that day that could be killed if the TSA didn’t respond to every potential threat equally.

  14. Administrator Says:


    I understand your point of view, but I disagree with it.

    Star Simpson didn’t yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater. The reaction to her LED name badge was not an intended consequence. As such, I don’ think it’s reasonable for the justice system to charge her with possessing a hoax bomb – she never intended it to resemble a bomb.

    We do need to deal with legitimate threats appropriately, but this was not a legitimate threat. As soon as the authorities realized that it wasn’t a threat and it was not intended as such, they should have dropped all charges.