Thursday, February 01, 2007

mooninites, Boston Globe, magnetic lights, street team, whatever, the megapost!

Back East, this is the big story - I won't offer much commentary, all bloggers are saying the same stuff I'm sure. Here are some articles I wanted to save from possible future internet oblivion - well I want to save you the trouble of registering for any more logins at websites - read up, it's today's news.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

first cover story:

Froth, fear, and fury
Cartoon devices spur antiterror sweeps; two men are arrested

By Suzanne Smalley and Raja Mishra, Globe Staff | February 1, 2007

Enraged city and state officials yesterday readied a legal assault against those responsible for a guerrilla marketing campaign that dotted the city with small battery-powered light screens, setting off fears of terrorism and shutting down major roadways and subway lines for parts of the day.


Authorities last night were retrieving the 38 magnetic signs depicting cartoon characters under bridges, on storefronts, and outside Fenway Park, among other locations, that were installed as part of a Turner Broadcasting System marketing blitz for a Cartoon Network television show.

For much of the day, police treated the signs, which measure about 1 by 1 1/2 feet and feature protruding wires on one side, as potentially dangerous. But their investigation shifted when they happened to move one of the signs into a darker area. The sudden lack of sunlight prompted the lights forming the character's image to brighten into color. Sometime between 2 and 3 p.m., according to a public safety official, a Boston police analyst recognized the image as a cartoon character, and police concluded it was likely a publicity stunt.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc. apologized about 4:30 p.m. for the campaign, which included cartoon characters making an obscene gesture.

"We really deeply regret that it was horribly misinterpreted to be a public danger, when all it was intended to do was to draw attention to a late-night television show," said Phil Kent, chairman and chief executive of the network, based in Atlanta. "This is not the kind of publicity we would ever seek."

The ordeal began around 8 a.m. when an MBTA worker spotted one of the devices affixed to an Interstate 93 ramp near Sullivan Square in Charlestown, forcing the shutdown of the northbound side of the Interstate and tying up traffic for hours. The State Police bomb squad blew the object apart with a water cannon at about 10 a.m. Then, in quick sequence just after noon, reports of similarly suspicious devices flooded police lines, sending anti terrorism forces to over a dozen locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Last night, in Arlington, police arrested Peter Berdovsky , 27, an artist originally from Belarus, who told the Globe earlier in the day that he installed the signs for an ad firm hired by Turner Broadcasting. Berdovsky, who described himself as " a little kind of freaked out," faces up to five years in prison on charges of placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct.

Attorney General Martha Coakley's office announced late last night that a second suspect, Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown, had been arrested in the case about 11:30 p.m. Like Berdovsky, Stevens was charged with placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. Both suspects are scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. today in Charlestown District Court, said Coakley's office.

Turner Broadcasting's apology did little to assuage outraged officials in the three cities, where lawyers are preparing legal efforts to recoup the cost of the police mobilization.

The deployment of scores of state, federal, and Boston police specialists, from bomb experts to terrorism analysts, exceeded $500,000, according to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Asked last night if Turner Broadcasting would reimburse the state and cities, Kent said, "We're certainly going to look at all the facts. We're a very responsible company and we try to do the right thing."

While police responded to the episode with swiftness and gravity, some Bostonians, especially younger adults, were amused by the spectacle and suggested authorities overreacted. But Coakley said the placement of the devices, on key infrastructure points, like highway ramps and under bridges, alarmed even seasoned investigators.

"For those who responded to it, professionals, it had a very sinister appearance," Coakley said. "It had a battery behind it and wires."

Turner Broadcasting acknowledged that it never sought approval or alerted authorities that it would put up the signs. The company hired by Turner for the campaign, New York-based Interference Inc., declined comment.

The signs, installed about two weeks ago, were part of a 10-city marketing campaign for the cartoon "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." They had not set off terrorism fears in New York, Los Angeles, or any of the other locations, and it was not clear whether they had been widely noticed in those cities. Yesterday Turner Broadcasting scrambled to alert police in the other cities to their presence.

Kent described a nerve-wracking sequence of events yesterday afternoon, when he received a call from one of the company's executives saying, "Turn on CNN." The news network was at the time featuring news of the bomb scares in Boston.

The company, realizing its campaign was probably the cause, went into damage control.

A visibly angry Menino said he would ask the Federal Communications Commission to yank TBS's broadcasting license for what he called "an outrageous act to gain publicity for their product."

The "Aqua Teen" program, launched seven years ago, chronicles the adventures of a talking box of French fries and his irreverent fast food pals. The images on the signs, including the characters with grimacing faces making the obscene gesture, are tiny video game characters that make cameos on the show, which airs during the Cartoon Network's late night programming block called "Adult Swim."

Menino and others said the campaign was especially reckless given Boston's sensitivity to terrorism threats, after planes that left Logan Airport on Sept. 11, 2001, were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

Menino was also upset, he said, because top executives at Turner Broadcasting did not contact him directly to discuss what happened. The mayor said he did not receive a call from the company until about 9 p.m., and it was from a low-ranking press official.

"Give me a break. . . . It's all about corporate greed," Menino said, adding that he wanted make sure "not the guy we arrested today pays, but also the people in the boardroom have some obligation also on this issue."

But others were relishing the story, which rocketed around the Internet. Computer users e-mailed their friends links to video on YouTube that showed young people using telescopic poles to place the magnetic devices on recognizably Boston locations, as electronic music played in the background. Others went to eBay, where someone was already selling one of the magnetic devices, which was apparently removed from a South Boston location, with a minimum bid of $5,000.

Local residents expressed a range of reactions. April James , 32, said she saw one of the devices in a sandy area under the Longfellow Bridge about three weeks ago. "I kicked it first, then I picked it up," said James, a hairdresser who says she walks and jogs over the bridge nearly everyday. "It looked like a bomb. I picked it up, pulled the tape off it, and there were batteries, two on the top and three on the bottom."

James said she was not frightened by the device, which she said she returned to its spot near the sidewalk in front of the bridge, before continuing her walk.

David Abel, Maria Cramer, Mac Daniel, John R. Ellement, Michael Levenson, Andrew C. Ryan, Maria Sacchetti, Donovan Slack, and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents April Simpson and Michael Naughton contributed to this report.

an article offering perspective:

Marketing gambit exposes a wide generation gap

By Michael Levenson and Maria Cramer, Globe Staff | February 1, 2007

Todd Vanderlin, a 22-year-old design student, had just left Lucky's lounge in South Boston two weeks ago when he spotted what looked like an alien glowing on the side of a bridge. He pulled out his digital camera, photographed the illuminated plastic figure, and posted the images on his blog.

"I knew it was art, and I knew it was part of the Adult Swim ads, because I saw a billboard for the same thing," said Vanderlin, referring to a series of cartoons on cable television. "I see it in New York all the time."

But yesterday, a subway worker less attuned to the latest in underground marketing techniques called the police after spotting one of the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" cartoon characters on an overpass in Charlestown. The terrorism scare that followed touched off a massive response from police. When it was discovered that the electronic boards were only ads for a cartoon, serious condemnation flowed from Washington and Boston.

The episode exposed a wide generational gulf between government officials who reacted as if the ads might be bombs and 20-somethings raised on hip ads for Snapple, Apple, and Google who instantly recognized the images for what they were: a viral marketing campaign.

Among many in the young generation, reaction to the scare was smirking. "Repeat after me, authorities. L-E-D. Not I-E-D. Get it?" one 29-year-old blogger from Malden wrote on his website, contrasting light emitting diodes with improvised explosive devices.

Elected officials said there is no room for battery-powered contraptions on bridges and overpasses in a post Sept. 11 world.

"Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok," said US Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Malden. "It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt."

The ads were the latest incarnation of viral marketing, an advertising technique that is exploding in popularity as a way to reach younger consumers inured to the effects of traditional commercials. Like viruses, the ads are intended to spread on their own, creating word-of-mouth buzz by cropping up in unexpected places outdoors and on the Internet.

The company behind the ads for "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" was New York-based Interference Inc., whose chief executive officer, Sam Travis Ewen, was recently named one of Brandweek Magazine's Guerrilla Marketers of the Year. Ewen, who is in his 30s, has also put people on subways to brag about financial advisers and sent models into bars to sit with packs of cigarettes, waiting for someone to ask for a smoke.

Jamie Tedford -- senior vice president of media and marketing innovations at Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based ad agency -- said there have been recent marketing campaigns that backfired. He cited Wal-Mart's decision to post a blog about a fictitious couple driving cross-country to different Wal-Mart stores. The company did not disclose that it had created the blog, angering some buyers.

But Tedford said he could not recall a recent marketing campaign involving objects that were mistaken for bombs or any campaign that had that caused a citywide panic.

"You'd almost have to go back to 'War of the Worlds,' " he said, referring to the famous 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. "We would all agree that this has crossed a line."

Turner Broadcasting System Inc., which broadcasts "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" on its Cartoon Network, could have saved itself the controversy by warning local authorities this was a marketing campaign, Tedford said.

Boston was one of 10 cities around the nation where the guerilla ads appeared, but nowhere else did they cause security concerns and set a city on edge.

"The hardcore watchers of that show would know it's a character, but the majority of people in these cities do not know that," Tedford said. "Turner has failed on the disclosure issue."

Turner executives said they did not forewarn local authorities, because they never imagined the campaign would cause alarm. "It was not our intent to do anything but get attention for a television series, period," Phil Kent, chairman and chief executive of Turner, said in an interview last evening.

That was apparent to many young consumers. After Vanderlin posted the images on his blog, Ewen shot him an e-mail: "I am glad you got one of the adult swim signs; there are others out there as well so keep looking up," Ewen wrote. He added he hoped people would take them as souvenirs.

Vanderlin, a student at Parson School of Design in New York City, said he was stunned to see police bomb squads swoop in and remove the characters.

"It's so not threatening -- it's a Lite-Brite," he said, referring to a popular children's game. "I don't understand how they could be terrified. I would understand if it was a bunch of circuits blinking but it wasn't. . . . It was clearly a design."

Mac Daniel and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

next article: the pussies speak!

After fear, delays, and confusion, expressions of outrage

By Matt Viser, Globe Staff | February 1, 2007

John Reidy, a 68-year-old financial adviser, was walking down Beacon Street when he saw the vans go by, with darkened windows and the words "Bomb Squad" across the back.

Earlier in the day, he had caught snippets of something amiss on the news, but he had tried not to worry; like many people since the terrorist attacks of 2001, he has learned to take with a grain of salt reports of suspicious packages.

But now there were sirens wailing and helicopters were in the air. When the vans sped by with what seemed real urgency, he felt a wave of fear in his gut.

"It really affected me psychologically," he said.

Hours later, after learning that the objects that had mobilized law enforcement and snarled traffic and rail service were part of an underground marketing campaign for a television show, he unleashed a stream of fury.

"There was no way of realizing what a ridiculous scam this was," he said. "I am appalled. I can't believe they could do something quite so irresponsible and stupid like this. It was a really poorly thought-out marketing scheme."

As news slowly spread among residents, commuters, and downtown workers that the wired devices attached to bridges and other pieces of infrastructure around the city were actually battery-powered lights in the shape of cartoon characters, many who were caught in the drama expressed outrage.

Some said Turner Broadcasting should compensate the city for the cost of the massive law enforcement response and for the toll in personal worry and inconvenience.

During the day, as police investigated one unknown object after another, some said they reached for cellphones to call loved ones, while others glanced at maps to check the proximity of the devices being investigated by police to their homes or offices. For several hours, confusion was rampant.

"What . . . is going on here?" thought Adam Bastein, 26, when he saw CNN showing live shots of the Longfellow Bridge on his television screen. "No one seemed to know what was happening. They just kept reporting and reporting, but no one had any answers."

He and his friend delayed a trip to the New England Aquarium because the T wasn't running.

Traffic jams caused parents to be late picking children up from school. Some people canceled doctors' appointments because they were afraid to enter the city.

"It's scary. I had friends calling me up and tell me not to come in," said Donna Manca, 40, of Winchendon, a native New Yorker who immediately thought of Sept. 11, 2001. "This is Boston -- stuff like that shouldn't happen here."

She found out the suspicious objects were harmless and part of a marketing campaign only when informed by a reporter.

"That's awful," she said. "That's a terrible, terrible thing to do, especially in this day and age."

Around midafternoon, a group of police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs scoured City Hall. They went through council offices, staff hallways, and other spaces in the building.

Some frightened council aides grabbed their belongings and left the building.

"You have to be nervous," said Lynn Wilcott, 35, who works at Massachusetts General Hospital, which sent out an e-mail message last night to let its employees know everything was OK. "A package is a suspicious package, no matter how cute it is."

Some, though, have grown immune to alarming reports after Sept. 11, most of which have turned out to be harmless.

"It seems like there's stuff like this all the time," said Keely MacMillan, who commutes from Cambridge to work in the Financial District.

"It's scary," John McGuiggan said with a shrug, "but this kind of stuff is bound to happen."

"It's a hyperawareness," said Vijay Dhaka, 32, a student at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "People are still learning to deal with these things."

Thursday, February 1, 2007
Men accused of hoax plead not guilty

By John R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

The two men accused of plunging metropolitan Boston into a panic with illuminated advertisements for a cartoon pleaded not guilty today in a courtroom packed with supporters and a crush of reporters.

The two men smiled broadly throughout much of the brief proceeding as Assistant Attorney General John Grossman described the battery-powered characters as "bomb-like devices." The men, Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, face charges of placing a hoax device in a way that causes panic and disorderly conduct.

The artists shuffled into Boston Municipal Court in handcuffs. Stevens was particularly animated, grinning at the gallery of about 40 supporters and raising his cuffed hand to give a low wave.

Judge Paul K. Leary seemed skeptical of the state's case, telling Grossman that the law requires that people must intend to create a panic to be charged with placing hoax devices. This case, the judge said, seemed to involve two men who relatives say were paid to place unorthodox advertisements throughout the city.

The question of intent was a legal issue for another hearing, Grossman said. The two men were ordered held on $2,500 cash bail, which they posted early this afternoon.

The prosecutor in court said that although the two suspects may have been acting on directions from an advertising firm, they were still the individuals who put up devices that scared people and tied Boston in knots as police shutdown roads and bridges.

When explosive material teams examined the devices on bridges and underpasses Wednesday, experts thought that the electronic rectangles could have been bombs, Grossman said. The devices had a power source and wires leading to an object wrapped in duct tape. In the end, the duct tape only contained batteries -- but it could have concealed some type of explosive, Grossman said.

Attorney Michael L Rich, a longtime friend who Berdovsky lived with for a decade, represented both men in court.

Outside court, Lorraine Stevens defended her grandson, saying that fears of terrorism in a post Sept. 11th world would have never entered his mind as he posted the cartoon characters throughout the city.

"It would not enter his mind," Lorraine Stevens said. "He just doesn't think that way. He's a total pacifist. If he thought anything would be misconstrued, he wouldn't have done it."

from a message board on the Globe website, I for the most part agree with this message:

All laughs aside, I'm a little annoyed and angry about yesterday's events in Boston. But I'm not angry with Adult Swim or Turner Broadcasting. Maybe they were irresponsible, even though NECN is reporting that they had legal permits to go ahead with their campaign. Maybe on the back of those signs they should have put up a "Call this number if you have any concerns about this thing", maybe a little foresight should have been used to see where some freaked out post 9/11 "I'm going to be a citizen hero by being vigilant" type could see what someone was doing as a threat to public infrastructure.

Who I am really angry at are the news media, who blew this story way out of proportion by using words like suspicious package, bomb, and really blowing it out of the park when they said that multiple devices found all around town at key infrastructure points. I blame them for scaring the piss out of the general public for something that the entire Internet community already knew to be harmless, as well as probably most of the college students and geeks in the city. I blame them for not sending one intern, possibly an adult swim fan to begin with, somewhere after getting a photo of the device and doing some background research into what the markings meant. It really shouldn't have gotten to the point that it did.

I'm also angry at the city of Boston, and our government in general. They're patting themselves on the back for saying how they acted so timely and efficiently during this potential crisis, when the reality is those things have been hanging up around Boston for 3 week! And there's video proof that it happened 3 weeks ago! And there's 9 other cities that for weeks didn't freak out, but us, the intellectual capital of the United States, goes a bit nutso over a few moonitite light brights? Why is that by 2:00 PM, the media was still reporting a bomb threat like the city was going to explode any moment, while the blogging community knew what in the world they were, put two and two together, and it took 3 extra hours for our mayor (who by the way had a press conference at 4:20, no I really can't make that up) to fess up to saying that yes they now know it's harmless. And to arrest the guy who was just hired to put up the signs? Make an artistic statement? Exercise his free speech rights? Come on now. Now your just trying to find a scapegoat and a pansy, and you've just put someone innocent and turned his life upside down.

I hate that they're still using the word hoax. It's not a hoax if there was never a bomb threat in the first place. No one called it in. No one had any intent to harm or to cause hysteria. This is not the same as yelling fire in a crowded movie theater.

What I love? Aqua Teen Hunger Force has never had so much attention in the mass media news. The first 5 minutes of last night’s news wasn't even so much about the day’s events, as it was explaining what the hell Adult Swim is (with inaccuracies of course because the group of people we charge with telling us the truth can't ever get their facts straight in the first place). The problem at it's heart is that something like Adult Swim talks to a underground counterculture, it talks to the people who aren't really a part of mainstream society, people who are reporting on it don't understand why it exists, and what's the point. I'm sure if Mayor Menino watched a mooninite episode he'd go "OMGWTFBBQ?!", or actually that's the exact opposite of what he wouldn't do. What else I think is hysterical? Boston wants $500,000 for yesterday’s events. Ted Turner is probably laughing his ass off, that's a fraction of what the coverage would have cost him if he went via traditional channels. Think about it. 30 seconds on Super Bowl this year? 2.6 Million. All day coverage and hype about ATHF on every local channel and nationally over the wires including a full breakdown of the show? Half a million? Really? Really?

But what really makes me angry is the people who agree with the city. The ones who are going, "Oh yeah before 9/11 this would have been funny but now that we're living post 9/11, it's not cool". Shut the Hell Up. Things that were funny before 9/11 are still funny post 9/11. Because if what the idiot was saying is true, taking another cliché line, the terrorists have already won. What is wrong with people that we're living in this constant trigger finger state of fear instead of living our lives the way we want to live them, free to do what we want, and not have any sort of fear that we're going to be blown up tomorrow? The more and more I see it, the more and more depressed I get that we're just going to become pawns of our society, that we're going to be controlled by fear instead of freedom. And of everything yesterday, that's really what boils my blood. That people just don't get it. Terrorists are going to keep trying to bomb us, and we're going to keep trying to stop it, but we shouldn't change our daily routine and mindset because of it. Because is life really that important if your not allowed to do what you really want to do?

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