Sunday, March 02, 2008

Unknown Artist: Star Simpson

Star Simpson is the MIT student who was picking up her boyfriend at Logan Airport in Boston when her hoodie which was adorned with an LED breadboard art piece was mistaken as a potential threat by airport officials. The mistake almost cost Simpson her life as this Tech article by Angeline Wang reported;
Simpson (a former Tech photographer) was wearing the device, which included green light-emitting diodes arranged in the shape of a star, during yesterday’s MIT Career Fair. Her defense attorney said she was at the airport to pick up her boyfriend who arrived at Logan this morning.

Simpson approached an information booth in Logan’s Terminal C wearing the light-up device, Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Wayne Margolis said during Simpson’s arraignment today. Margolis also said that Simpson had been wearing the art for at least a few days.

She “said it was a piece of art,” Margolis said, and “refused to answer any more questions.” Jake Wark, spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, said that Simpson only described the LED lights after she was “repeatedly questioned by the MassPort employee.” Simpson then “roamed briefly around the terminal,” Wark said. Margolis said this caused several Logan employees to flee the building. As Simpson left the building, she disconnected the battery powering the device, according to a press release provided by Wark.

Simpson had five to six ounces of Play-Doh in her hands, State Police Maj. Scott Pare said in a press conference this morning. The Play-Doh could have been mistaken for plastic explosives.

Simpson was confronted at a traffic island outside Terminal C by state troopers with MP5 submachine guns, and she was arrested at approximately 8 a.m., Pare said during the conference. “I’m shocked and appalled that somebody would wear this type of device to an airport at this time,” Pare said. “We’re currently under [aviation threat level] Orange. The threat is there against aviation. We did have MP5 officers respond to the scene immediately.” State police determined that the device was not a bomb after her arrest.

“She followed instructions as was required by the State Police and within minutes [Explosive Ordinance Disposal] unit found that it was an innocuous device and we took her into custody,” Pare said at the press conference. “Thankfully, because she followed instructions as was required, she ended up in a cell as opposed to the morgue. Had she not followed instructions, deadly force may have been used.”
Simpson is a young geek artist who was very active in a number of robotics and technology circles and had gained a reputation as a helpful expert to those involved.

The reaction at the airport by security personnel was entirely professional and appropriate. The aftermath is a disgrace to the spirit of American justice and Simpson's case is a benchmark for our society.

Simpson's teen-aged belief that her device was obviously art was not so much a personal mistake as a generational affliction all young people share. Once the police had established that the device was indeed art and that Simpson's explanation was accurate the State should have dropped all charges. Instead Simpson has been dragged from one hearing to another. WBZTV.com brings us up to date:
Thomas Dwyer Jr., a lawyer for Simpson, said his client didn't think her shirt would scare anyone. He said she'd been wearing the shirt for several days on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, and it had not alarmed anyone.

He said many young people are fascinated by technology and wear clothing with flashing lights.

"People make these objects part of their identity. It's a part of their personal expression," he said. "They are legitimate forms of First Amendment expression."

Dwyer also argued that state law does not clearly define what a hoax device is.
To continue to prosecute Simpson for this misunderstanding is shameful on the part of the State of Massachusetts. And the reson is compelling.

More and more, not only will young students be wearing electronic paraphernalia but most Americans and tech-savvy travelers will as well. Linda K. Wertheimer, a Globe reporter explains in an article called Look out, Logan: Software is soft wear;
CAMBRIDGE - Orange lights dance across the maroon silk blouse MIT professor Rosalind Picard dubs her "party shirt." The power source for this eye-popping fashion statement: a circuit board, wires, and a 9-volt battery, all concealed in an inside back pocket.

The blouse, also equipped with a microphone, is wearable computer research, part of a growing field that will draw more than 100 researchers from around the world to Boston this week for an annual conference. The researchers will show how their latest designs help people communicate and, in some cases, deal with serious medical issues.

But at this year's conference, they also will confront a side issue - whether to wear their designs at Logan International Airport.

The three-day conference opens Thursday at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel near the airport just weeks after Star Simpson, an MIT student, was arrested at the airport while sporting a glowing design made of a circuit board, wires, and a battery. Simpson, who has worked with Picard and other researchers in MIT's Media Laboratory, said her item was a piece of art - with lights that formed a star - that she made for a career fair.
What the article fails to emphasize is the exponential growth of exoskeleton medical devices that enhance and extend the human endeavor.

Star Simpson is an artist whose experience is less crime and more harbinger of things to come. If airport officials were threatened by Star Simpson, image their fright when someone wearing Dean Kamen's bionic arm shows up at the airport.

The charges against Simpson should be dropped immediately. Further legal buffoonery will only damage the reputation of the prosecutor's office unnecessarily.The State of Massachusetts should take pride in having handled the situation without violence and to a reasonable conclusion. Star Simpson is no criminal and that much is obvious even to those who don't understand art.

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