Friday, February 06, 2009

Let's justify our ridiculous overreaction with additional fearmongering!

Oh man...

I though the Sentinel's reaction to the goofy "bomb" incident in yesterday's paper was an improvement over their ridiculously overblown reaction to something similar in 2007. At least mostly.

But the police reaction to our new "bomb" was considerably stupider than the police reaction back then, so they need to cover their asses. So we get an ass-covering article today entitled Questions remain about homemade bombs found in Fitchburg. In it, everyone turns the stupidity up to 11.

Before I get down to business, I guess I'll start off with a disclaimer. I haven't examined these "bombs" and am really just relying on the reports for information about them.

So I'm using Occam's Razor here and going with the most parsimonious explanation, which is that they're drano and aluminum foil in a soda bottle, probably made by kids who wanted to create something that makes a loud noise. Because it's fun.

But I could be wrong! These bombs could be full of C4 and thermite! They're almost certainly not, but if something comes to light with further investigation that suggests these things are actually dangerous, I'll take this all back.

I don't expect that to happen.

Now, on to the stupid article. First a recap:
Police called in the State Police Bomb Squad, assigned to the office of the state Fire Marshal, when a homemade explosive device detonated shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to Fitchburg Police Sgt. Glenn Fossa. Fossa said the bomb squad used a robot to deactivate a second, similar device. Both devices were placed in plastic bottles before exploding, Fossa noted.
Scary! Look at those terms: "homemade explosive device," "detonated," "deactivate." Sure sounds like this thing was some sort of horrible bomb!

What bullshit. It's like calling a shaken-up bottle of soda an explosive device. Don't worry, though, you can "deactivate" that bottle just by waiting awhile. Also, please be careful not to detonate any balloons the next time you're at a birthday party.

Please also note that the devices were not "placed in plastic bottles before exploding." That sounds like there was something exploding inside the bottle and the bottle was just incidental. On the contrary, without a sealed bottle around the aluminum foil and drano, there would be nothing but some bubbles. The bottle is the most important part of the whole thing.

The Fire Marshal representative lady is more than willing to justify her department's budget by making things sound scary and using a lot of weasel words:
Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state Fire Marshal's office, said devices like the ones found Wednesday can cause significant injury.

"If one goes off in your hand, you can lose some fingers," Mieth said. "They can burn you, they can affect your eyesight, and they also have the potential to cause property damage."
That's actually pretty hilarious.

While I wouldn't recommend holding one of these while it goes off, it's not the kind of thing that's going to make you lose fingers. Flimsy plastic bottles just don't have enough mass and this sort of weaksauce "explosion" doesn't create enough acceleration to hit you with the kind of force (F=ma) it would take to sever a finger. You could probably draw blood if you're unlucky, but no way are you going to "lose some fingers."

And yeah, you definitely don't want drano in your eyes, but that's true of pretty much everything. You don't want soda from your shaken-up "explosive device" in your eyes either. That's why you don't put your face near the thing.

As for property damage, yeah I can see how that would happen. It would only really work with paper-based property, though. If you have an early printing of the Gutenberg bible, please don't set off any drano bombs on top of it. Same goes for your extensive collection of erotic origami.

Look, here is a university science class's TERROR WEBSITE'S explanation of the reaction you're dealing with.

Basically you're dealing with scrubbing bubbles. They bubble inside a sealed plastic soda bottle, so the gas has nowhere to go. So it exerts pressure on the bottle. And with enough pressure, the bottle gives way and you get a loud noise. This is basically the same thing as overinflating a balloon.

Not exactly life-threatening stuff. But we have to make it seem scary!

Here's fearmonger Mieth again:
"Unfortunately, the information about how to make these devices is very common and easily attainable on the Internet, but what's not as attainable are the risks associated with making them," she said.
Oh my god, she's totally right!

I just found this incredibly detailed and specific set of instructions on this exact sort of thing for a high school chemistry class TERRORISTS!

But fret not, citizens, Sgt. Glenn Fossa will make certain that they spend lots of the city's money on trying to track down these mischevious teenagers VIOLENT CRIMINALS!
Fossa said such devices "are not particularly common for our area."

"Occasionally, someone will find an old grenade or a shell left in an old house, but something like this is less common," Fossa said.

Fossa said investigators will first analyze forensic evidence regarding the materials and methods used to construct the device, then move on to "sifting through more detailed and more specific evidence found at the scene."

"The first thing to look at is whether the devices were intended for police officers, and if not, what they were intended for," Fossa said.
Okay, first off "an old grenade or a shell" is absolutely nothing like what you're dealing with here. They're made of metal and have gunpowder in them. You know, actual explosives. They're potentially deadly. This thing isn't.

But Jesus, it sure sounds like they're keen on finding these evil but surprisingly inept terrorists. Probably because they think they're being targeted. Maybe they've seen too much nonsense on the internet about blowing up cars with drano bombs. It doesn't happen, guys.

Here, let me assist the FPD with their investigation. I'll provide the motive!


Loud noises are fun. Explosions are fun. Science is fun. These things were set off for the same reason people set off fireworks: It's fun. That's what it was "intended for."

Now maybe you could spend your time and effort on things that don't involve trying to cover your asses after one of your officers got scared by a loud noise. Please?