Thursday, February 01, 2007

Our Tax Dollars Hard at Work: Keeping Boston Trendy, Puritan and Smart

Given recent events, I don't know why it I should be suprised that Boston, out of ten total cities "afflicted" with the recent Lite Brite-like images of Err and Ignignokt, was the only one to seriously overreact. I guess somehow I figured that Boston could somehow--I don't know--lighten up to controversial advertising.I mean, the Boston Area is supposedly quickly becoming a "trendy" area: takeovers by New York, European and Asian department stores and other mega-corporations, condos galore, overpriced hotels everywhere and what's-left-of apartments so overpriced that even the upper-crusted are fleeing to the North and South Shores, if not to Southern New Hampshire and Northern Rhode Island. Yet is seems the local sentiment on advertising remains as Puritanical as the attitude that drove settlers from the area, and the entire Massachusetts colony, back in 17th and 18th centuries. Let me recap recent advertising issues:

1. Early May, 206: Mayor Menino presses British retailer FCUK to remove scantily-clad female mannequins, yes mannequins, from the front window display of its Boston store on Newbury Street... not because they were scantily clad, but because they were in a fighting pose as actual actors were in TV ads. So-claimed the most adept Mayor that the ads were contributing to Boston's slighter-above-average homicide count for the year... not the fact that the BPD had a deficit of over 100 officers... or a Commisioner to rule them.

2. Late September, 2006: Group of "concerned" citizens, with a C-list politician the helm, set off a mini-campaign to take down the venerable and prominent Citgo sign at Kenmore Square on account of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's mockery of President Bush before the U.N.; this time alone common sense prevailed.

3. Mid-November, 2006: At it again, theMayor presses MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas to remove Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories ads from the side of its Green Line trains, again because they were contributing to the still-running-above-average homicide count for the year for Boston... because young, impressionable children might interpret the ads as a call to arms, or even worse, play the game, and react to their experience.

Trendy--try the butt of a joke for everyone else in the country, including those in other Aqua-Teen ad-"afllicted" cities, such as Seattle and Philly, that otherwise shouldn't even be razzing Boston (I mean, c'mon it's Seattle and Philly). But they didn't overreact and that's all that matters. Sure, new reports are trickling in with PD's at some of the other cities trying to back up their fellow boys and girls in blue in Boston by saying that if they had actually found the things (as opposed to them being removed by the general public and the locals who put them up), they would've reacted the same--good try, but there is equally as much news coming out saying that amongst the other PD's there was little fanfare even when one was found. In New York City, one street was shut down for a few hours for one investigation of the "suspicious devices," but that was it; there were other minor and isolated tie-ups to area pedestrian traffic by PD's in the remaining eight cities. In the Boston Area, too much of the area, including at one point parts of the Charles River was on lockdown, tying up traffic and mass transit for hours.

Interestingly enough, the first incident occurred right near my job at Sullivan Square. After being up in the Boston Area and nine U.S. cities for about a week and a half, all of a sudden, an MBTA employee "locates" one of the Lite Brite Mooninites hanging from the I-93 overpass and from there it was on: buses shuttling people between North Station and Wellington Square while the Orange Line was shut down, buses shuttling between Park Street and Kendall/MIT because Charles/MGH and the Longfellow Bridge were shut down, numerous sections of road and the Charles River shut down, all the while these Lite Brite-like circuit boards, at times labeled "suspicious packages," were removed, and, in some cases, "rendered useless." And with Menino at the helm and newly minted Governor Deval Patrick and State Attorney General Martha Coakley behind him, all it took was copy-cats with there own advertising blitz--posters rolled up in fake pipe bombs--to keep the craziness going.

My only regret on Wednesday was that in biking in (because, in addition to the exercise benefits, it beats the T's longstanding problem of having people go all the way into Boston to go two blocks over to the next neighborhood or take two sparsely-running buses--wake me when they even start the Urban Ring) I just missed the start of the whole thing. At about 7:55, making my way through the perilous Sullivan Square Rotary amongst all the rabid-gotta-get-to-work-NOW! drivers, a lone "Transit Police" cop car with blue lights going was also snaking its way through. But since aforementioned drivers pay near zero attention to emergency vehicles with activated lights anymore--which is partly cops' fault for "crying wolf" with their lights flashingjust to get to the nearest doughnut shop--the cop had a tough time getting through the rotary onto Cambridge Street perpendicular to traffic on Maffa Way which had a green light green light. The car finally got across and into the Sullivan Square T stop, meanwhile I'm further back negotiating the aforementioned intersection myself as the light was going green in my direction (still gotta watch for the less-than-vigilant right-on-redders).

Anyway, any other day I would've chalked up the Transit Police cop cars' haste to a tip-off of a fresh batch of doughnuts coming out of the oven at the Sullivan Square Dunkies, and so I didn't think too much more of it. However, had I looked up as I was riding under the I-93 overpass and over the Commuter Rail and Orange Line, I might've caught a glimpse--and a quick photo shoot with my camera phone--of the Mooninite circuit board that started it all. Because, as I was to find out later when one of my bosses who T regulalarly, that cop car was actually doing something--investigating that oddly-placed device; the occupant(s) of that cop car, as we all know from history now, were joined by many more cops, State Police, the BPD and prospective bomb squads, by the time my boss came through about an hour and a half later, after the "safety" busing on the Orange Line had begun. When I came through I had just missed the T employee's sighting.

And what of that Sullivan Square sighting as the first one and how the what-the-heck-is-this-creature-on-the-circuit-board thing could've easily been averted. Let's talk about a larger-than-life billboard depicting Err, sans flipping-the-bird-pose, that had been atop a building near the intersection of Crescent Street and Cambridge Street, two blocks from the Sullivan Square Station and I-93 underpass, for weeks (an Alpha Omega sign, more than likely timed for Valentine's Day, is there right now). Somerville police, who regularly fill their quotas sitting one short block away at the intersection of Innerbelt Road and Cambridge/Washington Streets, had to have seen it while watching traffic, if not on regular foot or car patrols down the street. MBTA maintenance employees would also have to have seen the billboard. I regularly see MBTA maintenance and vehicles buzzing in and out of the Commuter Rail maintenance facility on Innerbelt Road and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail (MBCR) facililty on New Washington Street. I mean, not that seeing a miniature Lite Brite-like version of Err in a precarious place after seeing the billboard should make one automatically think "oh geez, it's just some harmless Lite-Brite-like device bearing the likeness of the creature on the billboard, but, c'mon. Half the day--that's how long it took the millions of dollars worth of new Homeland Security "intelligence" on top of what already existed in local and statewide law enforcement to figure out what the "creature" was... when all any of these geniuses had to do was think back to the Sullivan Square and other billboards in the area... or ask some young adult.?! Do-gooders, mostly in the midlife-crisis age group (35-60), have posted on young adults' blogs with saying things to the effect of, "While you adults were heating up the fiber optics about the likenesses of Ignignokt and Err since early morning, it would've call the police to tip them off to what these signs were of"--as if every police officer is some old, cranky, stuck-in-his/her-ways person ignorant of popular culture. No. Try again. And I'm not buying the "well you can never be too careful"moniker either. The first one at Sullivan Square--sure, proceed with caution. The second, third, sure. The tenth means keep treating every single one like it "could explode"--who are you kidding?!

And this is nothing but bad press for the Transit Police especially coming on the heels of a study questioning the effectiveness of random searches, which I am actually in support of (read: nothing found=GOOD). Because unlike the shoot-to-kill attitude of equivalent Homeland Security training in the UK, especially in the subway, the MBTA Police, since changing their name to the more generic Transit Police, seem to have toned things down in general from their former gun-slinging days of gunning down racial minority groups in Dudley (read: baby in baby carriage does NOT equal terrorist even if you can't see what else in in the baby carriage). And the Good Mayor--a study just came out today saying high school graduate rates are way down; the Boston Public Schools aren't the only ones involved, but as the largest school system in the state, it BPS does stand out like a sore thumb... or a glowing Lite-Brite-like piece under I-93. Here's a thought: why don't we put the all the money that is currently being funneled into Homeland Security training into--I don't know--educating our youth so that when they grow up to be coppers, or politicians, they don't put Greater Boston in undue panic.

P.S. I think Greater Bostonians, and all true New Englanders will agree with me: this is a much scarier image than Ignignokt and Err:

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