Tuesday, December 13, 2005

CBS4 News is reporting that charges will likely be filed this week against three Kingston teenagers for building a bomb over the weekend.
Kingston Police say a resident called them at 10 a.m. Sunday to report that a plastic bottle exploded on the front lawn of their home on Snapping Turtle Lane. The resident told police their dog had just dragged the bottle in from the woods, but dropped it on the lawn when he was called into the house. A minute later it blew up.
When I was a kid, we called this a Hindenburg bomb. You fill about two-thirds of a plastic bottle with Liquid Plumr, then drop in a strip of aluminum foil and screw on the cap. The resulting chemical reaction produces hydrogen; and as the pressure builds, eventually the bottle bursts.

So first of all, it's not a bomb. There's no fire, no explosion. It's not incendiary. High school chemistry teachers set off more dangerous "bombs" when they toss sodium into water, which produces a similar reaction (but also produces heat which can ignite the hydrogen). This is a step beyond shaking a bottle of soda and unscrewing the cap.

Second, this is what kids are supposed to do. What happened to, "Boys will be boys"? For every few hundred kids who experiment with chemical reactions, a few will become seriously interested in science. That's a good thing. It's absolutely ridiculous that kids are discouraged -- in some jurisdictions, they're prohibited -- from launching model rockets. It doesn't ensure safety. It just discourages science.

Third, no one got hurt. The only near miss was a dog who dragged the bottle home -- and that wouldn't have happened if the animal had been on a leash. Don't get me started on dog owners who refuse to control their pets.

But the larger point is this: Stop worrying about bombs. There are far simpler ways to dismantle American society if terrorists are inclined. I've said it before: Our entire transportation system depends on blind faith. If Al Qaeda could recruit two dozen drivers across different cities and towns and coordinate them, at a specified time, to accelerate their SUVs and cross the yellow line, our entire society would be crippled in an instant. We would spend weeks locked in our homes, while politicians debated installing K-rails on every city street and automakers rushed to develop automated guidance systems.

Nothing good will come of our obsession with preventing terrorism at a retail level. It isn't a question of pitting safety against liberty; it's a matter of sacrificing liberty for inflated bureaucracy. It achieves nothing, absolutely nothing. And in this case, the only result will be opening criminal records on three kids who were just being kids.


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