The Morning Jolt


Mail Bomb Destined for Austin Detonates in FedEx Facility

Making the click-through worthwhile: Life in Austin doesn’t get any less scary after a bomb goes off in a Texas post office; some weird and unnerving developments in South Florida in the aftermath of the school shooting; and people continue to insist that Cambridge Analytica has cracked the code on some sort of behavioral manipulation beyond the realm of ordinary advertising.

A Fifth Bomb Explodes in Texas

This morning brings news of a fifth explosion in Texas:

A package destined for Austin exploded at a FedEx ground delivery facility in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, according to federal authorities.

A federal official said that based on preliminary reports, the package was addressed from Austin to a recipient in Austin.

Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said his department “is aware of the incident that has occurred in Schertz, Texas and is working closely on the investigation with our federal partners, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.”

According to San Antonio media reports, the package detonated around 12:25 a.m. as it traveled on a conveyor belt in the Schertz facility on Doerr Lane, where about 75 employees were working at the time.

News of an Austin-bound package bomb in Schertz comes two days after two men walking on a Southwest Austin street were injured in an explosion from the fourth bomb that has detonated in the city so far this month.

That bomb appeared to involve an elaborate device that relied on a trip wire. Police have described the devices used in the previous three explosions as “boxlike” bombs triggered by movement that were left on the doorsteps of homes.

At least two of the mailings appeared to target families that are well-known in the city’s African-American community, so some speculated that racial hatred was a motive. But the methods used in the fourth bomb suggests that the bomber may now just want to harm random people walking down a street:

A trip wire, which typically works by stringing a taut string across a pathway, detonates a bomb when a person pushes into it. Stringing a wire across or near a route used by multiple people could introduce a new element of randomness to the attacks, said James R. Fitzgerald, a former FBI profiler who worked on the Unabomber case.

Employing a detonating device that doesn’t target any particular person would indicate a dangerous capriciousness and callousness, he said — the bomber “wants to strike out at some perceived wrong, and anyone who gets hurt is of no consequence to him.”

The SXSW events in Austin ended March 15, but the city still has a slew of festivals and big events coming up, and it touts itself as the live music capital of the world. The city has plenty of crowded venues and public places where a bomb could do catastrophic damage.

Job one is catching this killer; residents of Austin must be deeply unnerved right now. Put aside the profanity, and this feels like a fair complaint. Five bombs go off in a month in a major American city, killing people, and no statement from the president?

I’m Starting to Understand Why ‘Florida Man’ Is Such a Lunatic

Some more weird, unnerving news out of South Florida:

Ben Mendez was painting outside of the Broward Sheriff’s Office substation in Pembroke Park when he heard a loud crash Monday.

A Toyota Camry crossed a small garden, crashed through a window and into the government building at 3201 W. Hallandale Beach Blvd. When Mendez ran inside to see if he could help, he saw a woman on fire.

“She was on fire already, so I’m assuming she lit herself on fire,” Mendez said.

Mendez pulled the woman out of the car and put out the flames as fast as he could. He said he tried talking to her, but she was “babbling” about her romantic life.

The woman was slowly walking naked when firefighters arrived and covered her. She didn’t struggle.

My first thought was that this was someone enraged at the Broward Sheriff’s Office for their awful handling of the school shooter, before, during and after the attack. But apparently this is just a garden-variety crazy person.

Separately. . .

Zachary Cruz, the brother of confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, was arrested Monday after deputies say he trespassed onto the school’s Parkland campus.

The 18-year-old was warned several times not to be on school grounds, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

“Defendant Cruz surpassed all locked doors and gates and proceeded to ride his skateboard through school grounds,” a Broward sheriff’s deputy wrote in his arrest report.

Why would he do something like this? Is this a cry for attention? A cry for help? Can someone please communicate to this young man that the students at that school have been through enough, and they don’t need any trespassing or other incidents that require a police response on campus?

Here It Comes: The ‘Social-Media Manipulated Your Vote’ Argument

Cambridge Analytica really comes across as a bunch of sleazy, unethical creeps.

The usual crowd on Twitter contended that the senior executives boasting that they “could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers” nullified yesterday’s Jolt, asking just what Cambridge Analytica could do with social media messaging that was so different from what any other campaign or consulting firm could do.

I keep seeing people referring to what Cambridge Analytica did as “information warfare against American voters, targeting posts to them to warp their beliefs” and “psychological attacks that you aren’t supposed to understand.” I want to know what they did that differs so much from traditional campaign web advertising.

Here’s a fairly-detailed explanation from, er, Cosmopolitan:

Third-party companies get your data from social media — sometimes from another app or service you signed up for, and sometimes by buying it, but rarely in a way that is very transparent for users. Data analytics firms then use that data to figure out what kind of messages you will be susceptible to. Then a network of fake profiles, communities, and narratives are set up online to appeal to a your [sic] specific profile, aiming, over time, to manipulate your perception, impact how you make decisions, and ultimately change your behavior. The resulting posts that show up in your feed are made to look like posts from other users similar to you. They target you, down to the individual level.

Except. . . this assumes that people are heavily influenced by fake profiles, communities, and narratives that they find on social media, and that they can get you to do something you wouldn’t do otherwise. Some folks on Twitter point to the lunatic who brought guns to the Washington, D.C. pizzeria to uncover a child-smuggling ring, as if he’s the average American. Remember, this guy said 9/11 “needed to be reexamined” and thought the entire federal government and D.C. local government were part of the sinister pizzeria conspiracy. There’s this not-so-subtle effort to shift responsibility away from the perpetrator to nutty online rumormongers, not so differently from the way that the blame for school shootings shifts from the perpetrators to violent video games or music or movies, or firearms stores, or firearms manufacturers.

Are there some people in this world gullible enough to believe everything they read on Facebook? Sure, and for decades there were people who actually believed what they saw in the Weekly World News and other outlandish supermarket check-out line tabloids. In the late 1990s, Art Bell had the highest-rated late-night radio program in the country, talking about UFOs, the paranormal and government conspiracies. We have always had Americans, and voters, who were eager to believe grandiose tales of sinister conspiracies, shadowy forces, and implausible explanations.

Right now, two groups are contending that Cambridge Analytica has some sort of next-generation form of online messaging that can “warp your perception of what’s real,” in the words of whistleblower Christopher Wylie: the folks who want to contend that the 2016 was illegitimate in some way, because voters were manipulated into voting for Donald Trump. . . and Cambridge Analytica, which wants all other potential clients to think they’ve discovered the equivalent of a mind-control ray.

You know what this is leading to, right? If the government and a sufficient majority of the public conclude that micro-targeted online communications are qualitatively different from ordinary advertising, and that that micro-targeting represents some sort of dangerous new “information warfare psychological operations,” then the government will have to step in. Social media will need federal monitors reviewing all of what’s on there to ensure people aren’t crossing the line from persuasion to manipulation, wherever that line is.

(Are the old Sarah MacLaughlin ads featuring sad-looking dogs considered a form of manipulation?)

ADDENDA: Big day ahead, as I head into AEI to join Jonah Goldberg for a taping of The Remnant. Look for it online later this week!

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