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Sci-Fi Writers Dream Up Ideas For US Government 123

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the mote-in-uncle-sam's-eye dept.
cheezitmike writes "This week in Washington, DC, a group of Sci-Fi writers is helping the US Department of Homeland Security envision the future at the 2009 Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders Conference. The agency is hoping the interaction between writers and bureaucrats helps the government 'break old habits of thought' and 'help managers think more broadly about projects and their potential reactions and unintended consequences.' And, it's at minimal expense to taxpayers, since the writers are consulting pro bono."
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Sci-Fi Writers Dream Up Ideas For US Government

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  • George Orwell (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nEoN nOoDlE (27594) on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:43PM (#28060255) Homepage

    Seems like now that they've gone and made 1984 a reality, they need new material to work off of.

    • Re:George Orwell (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:17PM (#28060587)

      Seems like now that they've gone and made 1984 a reality, they need new material to work off of.

      Really? I'd say we're closer to Brave New World these days.. Don't forget to take your soma--err, i mean Paxil.

      • I think they're trying to synergize the most dystopic concepts from both books. Politicians are nothing if not efficient... at making things worse.

    • by RDW (41497) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:19PM (#28061169)

      It could be worse. The writers might suggest world peace could be achieved by some extensive remodelling of New York City real estate triggered by the appearance of a giant squid.

      • I was totally expecting you to go somewhere else with that in the second line, like Dr Manhattan. Wasn't expecting the giant squid.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kungfugleek (1314949)
          No body expects the Giant Squid!!!

          Its chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear. Fear and surprise are two weapons. Fear and surprise and ruthless efficiency...

      • by macraig (621737)

        What's this giant squid? You mean the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Cthulu? Heck, for all I know maybe they're one and the same? Homer says, "Mmmmmm, meat balls...."

    • by rajafarian (49150)

      Come on, dude, you're making us look bad. You ended your sentence with TWO prepositions. /sigh

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:43PM (#28060267)
    You're just giving them ideas! You don't want them to know how a dystopian future tyranny might maintain control!
    • Re:Noooooooo...... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Un pobre guey (593801) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:04PM (#28060453) Homepage
      No joke. This is the last thing we should be doing. They need a crash course in understanding factual reality, not some wacky sci fi hallucination.
      • Re:Noooooooo...... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jurily (900488) <[jurily] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:22PM (#28060629)

        They need a crash course in understanding factual reality, not some wacky sci fi hallucination.

        The voters, too. Someone keeps electing these morons.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hanyin (1301045)

          The voters, too. Someone keeps electing these morons.

          You know, while I understand why government officials (particularly the ones higher up) are referred to as morons and the like, I think it's far more likely that they're well aware that they're dishonest with the public and serve themselves and come across as idiots because of their tangled web of lies which really doesn't matter that much once you consider how easy it is to sway public opinion with propaganda.

          Of course, given that the great majority of candidates are self-serving (morons) to begin with it'

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            When you find that place please let me know.

            • by selven (1556643)

              Screwed-up African country + $1 million for bribes and whatever else you might need can go a long way.

              • Idaho, Nevada or Texas after the Union dissolves. That's my plan. Don't think that those states are going sit on their hands if the government doesn't start reining itself in. A whole bunch of states are considering, or have even passed in at least one case, legislation to reassert their 10th Amendment rights. That's long overdue.

                We are living in a time of Constituional crisis that has been building for many years. Obama is doing everything he can to push us over the edge that Clinton and Bush, etc, le

        • in my experience, overly judgmental and overly critical people, such as yourself, i have often found to be the biggest morons around

          • So there!
          • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by MaskedSlacker (911878)

            Sounds like somebody's on a no-where town city council to me. You wouldn't happen to be the new mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, would you?

          • by Jurily (900488)

            in my experience, overly judgmental and overly critical people, such as yourself, i have often found to be the biggest morons around

            I didn't fuck up the economics of a whole planet, thank you very much.

          • by jo42 (227475)

            You must be a Republican.

        • The voters, too. Someone keeps electing these morons.

          It is hard not to when your realistic choices consist of moron A or moron B. Look at the UK at the moment: pretty much the entire parliament has been caught with their hands in the till. This clearly shows that a majority of politicians, regardless of party, are not suitable candidates for the job. We need a system where the cost to run for office is not so high so we can persuade people with normal careers to run.

  • Dreamer Fithp! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    roll on the nuclear bomb powered space ships

    • roll on the nuclear bomb powered space ships

      There's something seriously wrong with /. when people don't get that comment.

      Maybe someone needs to make it into a movie so that the kiddies can understand it. Actually, it would make a pretty *awesome* movie..

  • Reminds me.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:48PM (#28060311) Homepage Journal

    ... a little of the group of sci-fi writers "visiting" NORAD in Niven & Pournelle's "Footfall"

  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:48PM (#28060315) Homepage Journal
    ...welcome our soon to be skynet ran big brother government with laser beams on their heads.
  • help managers think more broadly about projects and their potential reactions and unintended consequences

    In legislative circles, do they ever run simulations? Test new laws by deploying them in MMOs first?

    • by Stile 65 (722451)

      You can also run simulations without actual human participants. Searching SourceForge for "game theory" turns up several toolkits and libraries that may be useful in that.

  • It seems like they might have been better off using writers for a show like 24 or CSI where they have to be at-least realistic enough to seem "plausible" to the audience. On one of the comentaries for 24, they get their ideas from real life, but make things like repositioning satellites or breaking crypto go much quicker than it can in real life. They'd be better off getting those writers with engineers to say "what would it take to sdo x,y,z like we did in Season 4, Episode 2" to set more realistic short-t
    • More to the point, there is a difference between Science Fiction, and Science Fantasy. Star Drek is almost science fiction, but star wars is science fantasy ... Bloody book stores even put horror and pure fantasy in the section marked "Science Fiction".
  • by feyhunde (700477) on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:55PM (#28060379)
    Regan had a team of science fiction advisers including Larry Niven back in the 80's to help him. In his Novel Footfall he has a good fictional account of meetings between them and the government with during a crises.
    • I think you mean Jerry Pournelle [mondediplo.com]. He's definitely not entirely innocent of the SDI debacle.
      • by maxume (22995)

        No, he means Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. There is some hilarious circle jerking in Footfall; the ideas are neat, but the rest of it is pretty much something else.

    • "Regan had a team of science fiction advisers including Larry Niven back in the 80's to help him."

      IIRC he also had an astrologer? My beef is with anti-science writers found in the opinion columns of major papers or masqurading as experts to congress [realclimate.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:55PM (#28060383)

    * Stop torturing people. It's good at terrorizing, but doesn't actually help catch bad people.

    * Stop locking people into iron cages because they ate a particular kind of plant.

    Here's a freebie:

    * Stop making laws based on dictates of an invisible guy in the sky who burns people for eternity because they stuck their jimmy in the wrong hole. It's just a little kooky when you think about it.

    Seriously, consulting sci-fi authors? How about consulting superheros like Captain Common Sense?

    • by joepa (199570) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:21PM (#28061183)
      Seriously, consulting sci-fi authors? How about consulting superheros like Captain Common Sense?

      Unfortunately, there's good reason to believe that Captain Common Sense is a homophobic theist. To draw the kinds of enlightened conclusions that the parent does, it turns out that we need to override our common sense tendencies. Consulting sci-fi writers is actually quite a clever way of dealing with the limitations of common sense.
    • A big recurring theme in a lot of sci-fi i read/watch is manipulation of the invisible guy in the sky to control others.
      Foundation & Foundation and empire (the mule stuff is more straight up sci-fi, but the religion and economic control is quite insightful)
      Stargate (movie & SG1), apart from the obvious goa'uld stuff, the series regularly has local leaders keep the superstition going abuse their position even when there is no goa'uld. (not really insightful but hey it's available in tv form)

      The ineff

  • Kobayashi Maru. Lets see Homeland plan(/shoot) their way out of -that- one.
  • An Improvement (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maalstrom Aran (889627) on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:56PM (#28060389)
    Ideas, created with pure thought and imagination, that are offered to the government sounds like a much better process than those offered by politicians and lobbyists. Generational ideas are what can improve our place in life, not those created from greed of power.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Un pobre guey (593801)
      "Ideas, created with pure thought and imagination, that are offered to the government" sounds like the kind of insane bullshit spouted by political and religious extremists. We don't want this. We want government to be based on a factual, informed, and insightful understanding of reality. The Evangelical Talibanization of American society and government is what we should be escaping, not promoting. I know, I know, these are sci fi writers, not Commercial Christianity preachers like the last administartion.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        It's the scope of the quality idea that matters. It's one thing to work hard to build a plant in a certain district so you can get elected again next year and quite another to plan for a society using generational ideas that span more than the length of a politicians career. We need more dreams, like the Apollo program, to drive our creation and innovation or our society will stagnate and destroy itself. Until we manage our natural desires of pride and selfishness we must rely on our natural talents like
        • quite another to plan for a society using generational ideas that span more than the length of a politicians career.

          You seem to be unclear on exactly what the Department of Homeland Security does for a living.

          Actually, I guess that is no surprise, most people probably have no idea either since all they seem to is spend billions of tax dollars with little to no tangible benefit.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Un pobre guey (593801)
          I understand your point, but it does not address my complaint. It is by no means a given that sci fi writers per se fulfill your point. Getting policy ideas from fiction writers is a dubious ploy at best, and utterly insane at worst.
          • Well It's pretty clear to a lot of people that those in power are usually committed to staying in power. These people work hard to sell themselves and the ideas that they adopt so they are more popular then the other guy. Certainly these people gain skills in people/business/image management. However these skills don't necessarily prepare them to be the best at managing a society/city. Collaborative input from others with different perspectives, I believe, is essential. These writers, whether they writ
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by anonymousNR (1254032)
      At first I really freaked out then I read TFA

      Andrews recruited only sci-fi writers who had conventional science or engineering chops on their resumes. Now about a third of the writers have PhDs.

      Then I was ok

      • Then I was ok

        Really? And how do you feel about investment bankers advising the government on economic policy?

        • by Trahloc (842734)
          Umm maybe because the scientists and engineers come from several different branches of knowledge and are trained in a measurable science that human emotion has no part in? An "investment banker" isn't a man of science he's closer to a shaman or priest who gives a guess with numbers thrown in and is reliant on humans not to get too scared or fearless otherwise it becomes useless gibberish.
          • Most numbers people in investment banks these days have hard science training, either an engineering or physics or math degree.

            The degree is not the problem, the underlying question is do you want government to be advised by experts with a narrow and self serving focus on their own small part of the industry? This is how you get solutions like bailing banks out while letting ordinary people lose their houses. By most definitions, that's not what democratic government is all about.

    • Re:An Improvement (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:16PM (#28060577)

      Yeah, an improvement but only in the entertainment value.

      These guys do best exactly what we don't need more of from the DHS - "movie plot threats."

      "Movie plot threats" are a dime a dozen, we will bankrupt ourselves trying to defend against even a fraction of a precent of them. We need to spend money on the basics like first responders, medical facilities, emergency planning, etc that apply to any threat, man-made or acts of god.

      And once that stuff is taken care of to a reasonable degree, the rest of the money needs to stay in the hands of private citizens who will make much more productive use of it - whether it is as simple as buying food and shelter for their families or running small businesses.

      The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

      • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        If you knew WTF you were talking about, you'd be well aware that these people understand the stupidity of movie plot threats precisely because they spend a great deal of time trying to invent plausible scenarios themselves. Many of these guys and gals have been consulting for the government long before DHS existed.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          If you knew WTF you were talking about, you'd be well aware that these people understand the stupidity of movie plot threats precisely because they spend a great deal of time trying to invent plausible scenarios themselves.

          I call bullshit. These people do not have an education or specialization in public policy or any other field applicable to non-movie-plot threats. Their entire careers are based on writing entertaining fiction and not the drudgery of high quality infrastructure planning.

          Many of these guys and gals have been consulting for the government long before DHS existed.

          Well if that's true, which I kinda doubt, then it was just as stupid to be hiring them back then as it is now.

          • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

            If you would like to challenge their credibility, all of them have an internet presence and many of them keep blogs. I'm sure they would welcome your input, given your superior knowledge of the issues. Just make sure to post links via Slashdot so we may all learn from you as well.

            • If you would like to challenge their credibility,

              I'm challenging YOUR credibility. You made an assertion, put up or shut up.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

                My credibility, that derives from knowing how to read, and having read the SIGMA website and several of the blogs of its members?

                My assertion, that you don't know what you're talking about, reinforced when you betrayed that you didn't know SIGMA pre-dates DHS?

                You have nothing and you know it. You're engaged in a trolling tactic, so now I'm doing this for fun.

                As to your assertion, that a bureaucrat can anticipate threats better than science fiction authors (despite having advanced degrees, scientific or engi

                • My credibility, that derives from knowing how to read, and having read the SIGMA website and several of the blogs of its members?

                  And yet, you are completely incapable of providing a single link to back up your claims. Funny that.

                  As to your assertion, that a bureaucrat can anticipate threats better than science fiction authors

                  Not at all what I wrote. What I wrote was that focusing on the billions of one-off threats is a total waste of time and money because we can't afford to protect against every single threat someone can dream up.

                  But thanks for providing a perfect example of what I was talking about. So far we've had one semi-movie plot threat come true - just one. And look at the billions of dollars we've wasted on preventi

                  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

                    Why should I waste my time on Google, when you are the one projecting a ridiculous personal conception of science fiction authors? This is a Socratic troll-alogue, and I'm leading you toward wisdom, but you're going to work for it.

                    First, read David Brin's editorial on the SIGMA website [sigmaforum.org]:

                    [T]he question always boils down to: "How can we better anticipate, cover, and overcome all conceivable or plausible threat envelopes?"

                    While this is a worthy and admirable emphasis for protectors to take, it is also profoundl

                    • when you are the one projecting a ridiculous personal conception of science fiction authors?

                      Yeah, now we get down to your real issues. You've got some sort of hero worship bullshit going on and when I criticized the DHS you took it personally as a criticism of "science fiction authors."

                      That's why you totally misrepresented what I said and tried to portray it as some sort of endorsement of George Bush.

                      Grow up fanboi.

  • by russlar (1122455) on Friday May 22, 2009 @06:56PM (#28060391)
    Huh. So this explains the lack of decent, original movies lately: all the good writers are working on real life!
    • Real life wasn't polling well among the hardcore gaming segemnt. They have decided to bring in some new writers and reboot the franchise.

      Hope it turns out of good as the latest Star Trek movie.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We just have to get the bureaucrats to do the same and we're all set.

  • From the blurb: "the writers are consulting pro bono." Are you sure that by "pro bono" they don't mean "pro Sonny Bono", or "in favor of another copyright term extension"?
  • by bonch (38532)

    It sounds like a real waste of time. The government calling on a group of science fiction writers to come up with ideas for the future? Are they out of their own ideas or something? What are they doing working in the government then? This just seems like a way to generate a fluff media piece listing cool fantasy technologies to make everyone hopeful and temporarily forget about economic problems and Democrat in-fighting.

  • "Governmint"? I know it's both off topic and random, but it just entered my mind and now I would like to know... what flavors and stuff would go into an ice cream called "Governmint"?

  • Old news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dosun88888 (265953) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:14PM (#28060559) Homepage

    They've been using George Orwell as inspiration for a while now.

  • Ladies and Gents, time to watch TV and make America safe!!!!(10+1)

    ...

    At 8PM, TNA Impact "Roar of the Redneck!"

    At 9PM, Shitty Monster Movie with Cheap CGI

    At 11PM, Watch an Ultimate Gamer Cry Like a Fucking Emo - Life is so fucking hard man!

    At 1AM, Another Fucking Infomercial - look, the Aussie guy is selling pills to get a 6-pack!

    At 2AM, Highlander vs Al Quaeda.

  • by jman11 (248563)

    That explains the fear of liquid explosives.

  • Too bad... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Brandybuck (704397) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:49PM (#28060907) Homepage Journal

    Damn. Too bad Robert Heinlein ain't around anymore.

  • I think Niven and Pournelle can claim "prior art" on this one since they claim to be responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union by advising Reagan to go ahead with the horribly expensive Star Wars initiative. Can't remember which of his books mentioned it in the footnotes.
    • by jd2112 (1535857)
      With any luck it will work about as well as when the military got movie directors to give them ideas on South Park.
  • This is insane rubbish! Can't you see it? From TFA:

    A federal research director fantasized about a cellphone that could simultaneously text and detect biochemical attacks. Multiple cellphones in a crowd would confirm and track the spread. The master of ceremonies for the week was Greg Bear, the sci-fi novelist whose book "Quantico" featured FBI agents battling a designer plague targeting specific ethnic groups.

    "What if we had a black box that IDs DNA on the scene?" Bear asked a panel of firefighters and p

  • "The agency is hoping the interaction between writers and bureaucrats will inspire them to fund scientific studies"
  • Why hire expert consultants when you have writers making up stuff for cheap?

  • Umm, Great Ideas From Sigma so far [guanabee.com]:

    Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

    "free and worth every cent"

    Give me Charles Stross, John Scalzi, Rudy Rucker even David Brin and we'll talk.

    • I actually submitted an article covering this a little over a year ago, when Schneier talked about it on his blog. It wasn't picked up, but then again, I quoted from the more embarrassing things said at the conference, so there is little surprise to that.

      I actually used David Brin's quote in the article summary. Oops.

      "David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described 'rant' on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to b

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:52PM (#28061953)

    Andrews founded an organization of sci-fi writers to offer imaginative services in return for travel expenses only. Called Sigma, the group has about 40 writers. Over the years, members have addressed meetings organized by the Department of Energy, the Army, Air Force, NATO and other agencies they care not to name.

    Hm. The last book Robert Ludlum wrote was called "The Sigma Protocol". It was published the same year he died. He was 73.

    It was about a collective of creepy post-Nazi idea men commissioned by Hitler to re-envision the world. Well, after the war, these men carried on with their pursuit of Bad Science in the shadows. Central to the plot was a string of assassinations of old men who had fallen out of the club because they thought what they were about to achieve was too horrific even for a bunch of ex-Nazis. The cataclysmic ending resulted in explosions and heroic rewards, etc., but also with a young software billionaire carrying on the creepy work. . . (The book's last page makes a very deliberate jab at Bill Gates and his recent affiliation with the fucking creepy organization, Planned Parenthood.) Or maybe it wasn't deliberate. Still, an elbow in the ribs is an elbow in the ribs intended or not.

    Whatever the case, I'll leave the obvious connective threads dangling because they're rather over-dramatic in the same way that the premier episode of Lone Gunmen was just too stupidly prophetic to be taken seriously. Even though it was right on the money.

    Anyway. . . The real point I'd like to make is that any dick-head writer 'Heinlein' enough to work with the DHS needs a stern talking to or failing that, a good ass-kicking. Sci-Fi writers can be exceptional dorks sometimes.

    I mean. . , did anybody else notice the distinctive Starship Troopers feel to J.J. Abram's Star Trek? (I'm talking about the cinematic version of ST, not the book).

    And on a semi-related note. . . One interesting thing in the world of speculative fiction which totally caught me off guard was that Dollhouse has been renewed for a second season. WTF? I mean, that's cool and all, but. . , has hell frozen over?

    These thoughts may all seem disconnected, but they really aren't. Don't think too hard though. It's Friday and the week has been long.

    -FL

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:20PM (#28062185)
    If they invited Bruce Schneier [wikipedia.org] to speak instead of a gaggle of Sci-Fi "movie plot" writers then they might actually learn a thing or two about homeland security AND it wouldn't be a complete waste of the taxpayer's money or the politician's time (the former being much more valuable than the later).
  • The last administration already did this with results ranging from tedious to risible. Then it was the usual suspects: Larry Niven, Drake, etc, I think. I can't be bothered to read the article to see who it was this time.

    • by deprecated (86120)

      Not confidence-building. If it was done casually and with fewer buzzwords and less self-congratulation all around and not under any official auspices, I would be less appalled. As it is, it makes me a little sick to my stomach.

  • How about Peace? Many SciFi movies,books have a peaceful future.
  • You have got to be kidding. Science fiction? Could we have picked a fiction genre more devoid of factual understanding? Fantasy, maybe?

    There is a reason why sci-fi and fantasy are often grouped together. They're both factually delusional in many regards. One has space ships and perfect governments; the other has faeries and trolls. There is little difference, in most cases. Yes, some sci-fi has a political theme, but more often than not it takes the role of poor plot device or fantastical utopia (ala Star T

    • by Trahloc (842734)
      Just curious, but you have a particular reason why Kal Penn shouldn't be a Public Liaison? I have no particular feelings on his appointment but the idea of an actor as the public face for the current administration is logical to me and not horrifying at all. After all we've been lied to for years by amateur liars called lawyers, at least Obama got a professional to do it. Gives me hope they might actually use knowledgeable professionals for other departments. Like oohhh.... I dunno scientists and engine
      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        Maybe because "Office of Public Liaison" sounds somewhat like "Office of Public Lying" - and because its largely a propaganda post. Combine this with the fact that Kal Penn was a financial and personal supporter of Obama and there is a disconcerting potential for sectarian preference and 'selective memory'.

  • And, it's at minimal expense to taxpayers, since the writers are consulting pro bono.

    Just goes to show, nobody wants to pay writers. Absolutely nobody.

  • Nobody seems to be trying to re-think capitalism. I'm not talking about the current crisis. There's a more fundamental problem - increased productivity no longer results in higher real income. US per-capita real income per hour worked peaked in 1973.

    Think about that for a moment. We have incredibly good production technology. 20% of the workforce makes all the real stuff. That number was 50% in 1950 and 90% in 1900. Yet workdays have been getting longer for several decades.

    SF writers used to write a

  • The most successful attacks are all low tech. Even 9/11 was low tech, commander planes that practically fly themselves and point them at buildings. What they need to do is to stop thinking big and complex and start thinking big and simple. Like using truck mounted mosquito sprayers to spread salmonella infected water all over a city center. Or waiting until the dry Santa Anna Winds are just right and then creating a fire line along the highway several miles long. Think big but simple because that is wh
  • Sort of [comicbookresources.com]...

    Interesting read nonetheless.

  • Hopefully the Sci-Fi guys will help the cops and bureaucrats learn the difference between real threats and advertisements for a TV show:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Boston_Mooninite_Scare.

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