It\'s illegal to be a goth wirehead

Six Minneapolis revelers jailed on suspicion of carrying fake bombs

"Zombies" lurching along a downtown street tend to cause a stir. When the living dead carry duffel bags and backpacks with what look like wires sticking out, the cops step in. This horror show unfolded Saturday evening in Minneapolis, where officers arrested six ghoulish revelers in thick makeup who police said were staggering along like zombies near Sixth Street and Hennepin Avenue.

"They were arrested for behavior that was suspicious and disturbing," said Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, a police spokesman.

All six were booked into the Hennepin County jail under a post-9/11 Minnesota statute making it a felony to "simulate weapons of mass destruction." Dressing up like characters from the movie "Night of the Living Dead" might have been OK, but toting bags with what police said appeared to be protruding wires apparently crossed a line.

A friend of the group said the arrests were overkill and that the suspicious devices were homemade stereos. "This was just kids trying to have some fun," said Helen Hicks, who said she has attended similar "zombie" gatherings in the past.


(They were released without charges)

This kind of story illustrates to me the reason why it's better to just throw up your hands and give up on proactively protecting society from terrorists than to follow through on what it takes. The argument goes something like:

Suppose you are going to watch carefully for terrorism. Ergo, you will waste resources when there are things that look like terrorism but aren't. Ergo, you can be inefficient, or you can pass (and enforce) laws against looking like terrorism. Unfortunately, lots of harmless things, like making your own backpack stereos, being interested in rocketry, and the many other similar overreaction stories we've seen, look like terrorism. Ergo, innocent citizens lose the freedom to do harmless things, or at least the freedom to do them without fear.

Now you have a society where people know that they can be arrested for having the wrong hobby or looking out of place in the wrong way. Now the uncertain potential of occasional death by terrorism has been replaced by the certainty of a police state - with most of the potential of death by terrorism remaining. 300,000,000 people oppressed because a few thousand died 5 years ago, with it unclear how much the chances of future incidents have been reduced. It's just not worth it.

And lest you think that this is some kind of lexicographic preference where I value any amount of liberty, however small, over any safety that comes from losing it, let me assure you that this is not true. It is true that I value liberty more than safety, but to me the key fundamental driving my evaluation is the ease of attack and the difficulty of defense in this particular situation. The country is full of juicy targets: key bits of infrastructure and places where many people congregate. Killing people and destroying property is easy, protecting it is difficult. And there is no point in protecting 50%, or 90%, or 99% of the targets, since as long as the bad guys can see the protection they will concentrate on the remaining sites. It's a hopeless job, better abandoned than attempted.

I guess some people may see it as depressing or cowardly to calculate that protecting ourselves from terrorism is not worth the price. All I can do is shrug. If you let such emotions drive you into making disastrously poor tradeoffs, I've got a fun game to teach you called No-Limit Texas Holdem.

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