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Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

GETTING TOUGH ON LOITERING....The last time I checked in on British attempts to keep teenagers from loitering where they aren't wanted, authorities were dispersing them by playing classical music ("The most effective deterrents, according to a spokesman for Transport for London, are anything sung by Pavarotti or written by Mozart"). Apparently things have gotten a little more hard-nosed since then:

Jordan Webb can predict the exact time of day his head will start aching. If the 10-year-old lingers outside the Reynolds grocery store past 5 p.m., a small black device latched onto the storefront and operated on a timer will emit a high-pitched sound that makes the boy's skull feel like it's popping.

....Jordan is referring to the Mosquito, a $975 transmitter designed to disperse young loiterers by making a loud humming noise that most people older than 25, such as his 41-year-old mother, can't hear. The Mosquito has sparked a new sort of buzz in Britain, this time among political and civil rights groups that say the device is discriminatory and treats young people as second-class citizens.

....On a recent sunny afternoon in this historic town near Oxford, Jordan was kicking a soccer ball outside Reynolds with four other boys his age, all wearing red Manchester United jerseys. At 5 p.m., right on schedule, the grocery store's Mosquito began squealing. Jordan said he felt a painful "scratch" in his ear, and he hustled across the road to get out of the machine's 50-foot range.

Put aside the civil rights question for a moment. Why is this even legal? If Reynolds were transmitting an 85-decibel screech in normal frequencies that extended 50 feet into public space, it would be plainly illegal, wouldn't it? It would be one thing if it were limited to their store, but surely private property owners aren't allowed to transmit irritating sounds in a 50-foot radius outside their own property, are they? How can this possibly be lawful?

Kevin Drum 1:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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Comments

They tried this in the states, but once the kids figured out that adults couldn't hear the buzz they downloaded the frequency and turned it into a cell phone ring so that teachers couldn't hear when they got text messages in class.

Posted by: angryhippopotamus on February 27, 2008 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

Orwell was English, after all.

Posted by: Kenji on February 27, 2008 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

9/11 or 7/07 changed everything.

Posted by: R.L. on February 27, 2008 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

No Bill of Rights in the UK.

Posted by: Old Hat on February 27, 2008 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

Well, let's also consider the noise BLARED into parking lots and across highways by slum-district Burger Kings and shopping-mall movie theatres. I guess they're saying, "Hey, we're here! We're open! It's a party! Let's celebrate!"

But it is, of course, INCREDIBLY LOUD. You can't walk up to a movie theatre or get a Quarter-Pounder without putting your fingers in your ears???

Posted by: Anon on February 27, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

Well, if it was up to me, I'd crank out the greatest hits of Celine Dion, Michael Bolton and Air Supply. If that can't clear a parking lot full of teens, then nothing will.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on February 27, 2008 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

Old news. I blogged about this more than a year ago.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 27, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

All in favor of this. It *sounds* awesome.

Andy yeah it's old news.

Posted by: Korha on February 27, 2008 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

This could cause hearing damage to the kids. Oh and what bout neighborhood dogs. just wrong.

Posted by: Neuro on February 27, 2008 at 2:48 AM | PERMALINK

It is old news. There was a audio file somewhere on the web where you could listen, and I couldn't hear a thing.

It's all part of an anti-yob campaign here. Imagine a nation of old men yelling, Get off my lawn!

Oh, and don't use the word "kids". Those same old men will give you a lecture on how kids are baby goats.

I'm sure if someone proved it damaged dogs' ears we'd have them removed immediately.

Posted by: KathyF on February 27, 2008 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

... all wearing red Manchester United jerseys.

Serves 'em right. Bandwagon-jumping little twerps.

Posted by: Thlayli on February 27, 2008 at 4:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's part of the continuing effort in the UK to replace traditional, (supposedly) expensive policing (i.e., the copper on the beat) with (supposedly) less-expensive, high-tech solutions, q.v. speed cameras, CCTV, etc.

It's what happens when you (a) don't want to pay for enough police officers to wander about and chase the troublemakers off and (b) make filling out paperwork the primary performance measurement of the ones you do have.

Plenty of money for Trident submarines and TWAT, however.

Posted by: Mike on February 27, 2008 at 5:07 AM | PERMALINK

Lawful? Why shouldn't it be lawful? Store owners have a right to look after their customers. Young kids loitering outside of a business are often trouble. I think that it's a brilliant solution; it doesn't hurt them, and everyone-except the kids, of course-is happy.

Posted by: mollycoddle on February 27, 2008 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

Anything that drives away children can't be all bad. What, exactly, are kids good for? They're noisy, dirty, whiny brats that suck up your disposable income and monopolize your spare time. We need a device that is good for 50 miles, not 50 feet.

Posted by: steve duncan on February 27, 2008 at 6:29 AM | PERMALINK

Surely you have experienced the modern American suburban wonder of the Leafblower, which has a blast radius of what, a mile? Not only are they perfectly legal, but their users don't appear to even consider or care that they might be irritating or painful to hundreds or thousands of people around them. What better symbol of the fraying of the social fabric?

Posted by: Chase on February 27, 2008 at 7:40 AM | PERMALINK

Why do 10 year olds need to loiter by grocery stores? England is full of parks and bonny green land.

Posted by: Where's Sally? on February 27, 2008 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe they should install the device in a leg shackle, and set it to go off-- using LoJack/GPS technology-- every time the kids deviates from a carefully planned weekly route set by their parents/school: home to school, school to home, etc.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

They could call it "Leash For People."

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

8:41 AM, I think the concern is more that it's worse to automatically drive off the kids with physical pain than that people think kids have a right to block the entrance to a store.

What if a kid is a legitimate customer? What if he shows up to get his mom's prescription medicine? He still has to walk through The Idiot Device, correct?

That's why it's treating the kid like a second class citizen. Every war-obsessed, right-wing dad in America who put hiing boots on his kid at 6 months old and named his kid Hunter or Tyler or whatever-- if that maniac brings his maniac kid as a tourist to England, that kid is going to have his Superman American pride and dignity hurt if he wants t o go to 7/11. So even the right-wingers can feel like the victims, here.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I know: how about every time a C or B + student gets a question wrong, or isn't paying attention in Math class or whatever, the teacher gets him or her with the device. Or delivers a harmless electric shock with a shocker. After all, it's harmless and school is good for you! Let's all treat people like animals now instead of like people! Great idea!

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

A thin straight pin, through a hole in the speaker grille and into the voice coil. Problem solved.

Posted by: CN on February 27, 2008 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Why not just arrest the kids and hold them on a bench in a police station for a few hours?

That experience doesn't need a lot of repeating to get the message through. Having to call your parents from jail stinks. Every parent understands kids can't hang out in front of a store constantly.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Kids also differ in their ability to be developmentally impaired. A good chemist could probably come up with a proprietary mixture of lead and endocrine disruptors.

Posted by: B on February 27, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Old news. I blogged about this more than a year ago.

This time it's on a blog that people read.

Posted by: bonds in seconds on February 27, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

I can hear the thing, and it's just annoying, not painful. (While hearing deteriorates as you age, it doesn't do so uniformly.) Y'all seemed to think that if he hung out there for more than 5 minutes his ears would start to bleed; that's far from the case. It is much more like a mosquito in your ear, enough to drive you nuts after a while but certainly not harmful. I'm sure the kid wouldn't have any trouble going in a buying a lolly should he so desire, it'd just be unpleasant to hang out in front of the store for any length of time.

Posted by: cms on February 27, 2008 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

85db is not going to cause hearing damage or pain (irritating noise, yes). Bit ot a tempest in a teapot in that area.

The worrisome part is that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the new technologies available for controlling humans.


Posted by: Buford on February 27, 2008 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Brits are crowded together, judging by North American terms, and they have centuries of laws to help neighbours get along. I give them the benefit of doubt. Literary allusions to Orwell and out of date war propaganda from 1776 are a bit thin in comparison.

Posted by: Bob M on February 27, 2008 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Buford is right about the noise level. OSHA requires hearing protection in the workplace at 85 db, but only if the exposure is eight hours or more.

Posted by: AK Liberal on February 27, 2008 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Outlaw loud car stereos. Much worse IMO. They can come to your neighborhood and you cant leave to get away from it. The kids have the option of leaving a place they werent supposed to be.

Steve

Posted by: steve on February 27, 2008 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Outlaw loud car stereos. Much worse IMO. They can come to your neighborhood and you cant leave to get away from it.

Dunno about your community, but mine limits noise to 60 dB measured 3 1/2 feet from the house or car (50 dB at night).

Enforcing it is another matter entirely.

Posted by: Wapiti on February 27, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Britain is becoming a police state, Kevin. A surveillance society. It's been going for years, but getting steadily worse since the WOT began.

Posted by: Speed on February 27, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Whoever pointed out that there's not a Bill of Rights in the UK: the Bill of Rights here doesn't apply to grocery stores, so that's somewhat off point. (It only limits the powers of the government.)

The best way to shut this down would be for people who live or work near the grocery store to file an action for nuisance. But I would expect the use of these devices would be limited to some extent by the market, once enough toddlers' nerves get frayed by the annoying noise.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 27, 2008 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

angryhippotamus is sort of right. It was tried in the UK first, but kids do use it as a ring tone. The ringtone has gone world wide, I don't know about the device. This is really old news.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/12/technology/12ring.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Posted by: crack on February 27, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

"Why is this even legal?"

Kevin,

SUCK,

ON,

THIS

Posted by: UK Store Owners on February 27, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Tragically, given that Britain is the birthplace of Magna Carta and constitutional liberty, in the last few decades the British have to tolerate and even embrace a far wider array of police surveillance and restrictions than I would have ever thought possible (among other, the effective repeal of the right to remain silent).

Posted by: Stefan on February 27, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

cms wrote:

Y'all seemed to think that if he hung out there for more than 5 minutes his ears would start to bleed; that's far from the case.

Well, y'all seem to not have read the comments, cms, because nobody wrote that. The excerpt Kevin put up said in the first sentence that the kid could feel his head ache, so that's probably why people thought it was hurting kids.

Conservatives would probably support this just because they'd imagine it being used on black kids. That would cause them to think there were fascinating possibilities for this device. If it was only going to be used on white kids, then they'd probably pretty quickly figure out that it's a bad idea. The thing is definitely degrading. The conservatives don't care about people's pride until it's their own that's getting trampled- I guarantee you the first time a Georgia daddy brought little Tyler over to Britain and bratty little 15-y.o. Tyler walked over to the shop in his expensive little hiking booties and came home crying and bitching about the sound, we'd have the red states in an uproar. They definitely get pissed off all the time when a teacher, coach or minister has the gall, the gall, to correct one of their kids for misbehaving. Ya can't do that to mini Jean Claude Van Damme!! He could be kicking ass all over the place! It's not like in the movies if a dorky teacher can yell without getting his/her ass kicked!

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

The excerpt Kevin put up said in the first sentence that the kid could feel his head ache, so that's probably why people thought it was hurting kids.

Y'all seem to not have read that, either.

Posted by: Swan on February 27, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

It's called the tort of nuissance. England invented it. Adjoining property owners should try to use it.

Posted by: Me2d on February 27, 2008 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.jetcityorange.com/mosquito-ringtone/

I dont think its harmful, after all we have cell phones and all kinds of signals around us. My dog, sitting here beside me, is unaffected by this 17khz tone. Its the firetrucks that get the dogs howling around here.

Posted by: Jet on February 27, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

I recall reading of a device that some were thinking of using in say, a coke machine, a directional pencil beam of sound, to get people to buy cokes. You would physically hear a voice, in your head, that would say "Hey, I wouldnt mind having a coke" as you walked past or through the beam.

I would think this subliminal pencil beam might be more effective at getting the teens to migrate to another area with a pencil beam that would say "Hey, lets go to the library"

Heh.

Posted by: Jet on February 27, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Some funny comments here.

But what about a mother doing the shopping with her infant daughter?

The list of reasons why the Mosquito should be banned is very long.

Posted by: Tracer Hand on February 27, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

The more disturbing trend in Britain is its extremely rapid turn into a police state. There are police and private business surveillance cameras everywhere. You're basically watched and recorded from the moment you leave your house to the moment you return -- it's something the Stasi could only dream of, and would have eagerly embraced if they'd still been around when this technology was developed.

Posted by: Stefan on February 27, 2008 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly what the western world needs is to make the few remaining public spaces we have less livable.

Posted by: rufustfyrfly on February 27, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

I once watched a Bobby try to get a passed out homeless guy to leave the area around Covent Garden. He yelled "Off you go!" at the guy for 15 minutes. Eventually the guy rolled over and the cop yelled some more and then left. Never touched him. Eventually the guy woke up and wondeed off. My first reaction was that in any US city, the cop would have poked the guy with a baton until he woke up.

Posted by: do on February 27, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

But what about a mother doing the shopping with her infant daughter? The list of reasons why the Mosquito should be banned is very long.

Well, a dial tone is about 80db and physical pain doesnt start till about 125db. High frequency sounds of 2-4,000 Hz are the most damaging. The uppermost octave of the piccolo is 2,048-4,096 Hz. OSHA says that 90db @ 8hrs daily is acceptable.

We need to outlaw taking babies, and teens [not that they would want to go] to concerts with piccolos!!

Posted by: Jet on February 27, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

We need to outlaw taking babies, and teens [not that they would want to go] to concerts with piccolos!!

Yes! This totally explains why Richie Petrie was so maladjusted.

Posted by: shortstop on February 27, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

The United Kingdom should not be confused with the United States.

Two different nations with different approaches to property, privacy, and freedom.

Posted by: sdh on February 27, 2008 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

A personal note:
I live and work in a building with a large roll-up door - no sound insulation whatsoever - in the front. Two doors down is a youth training program for at-risk teens. Sometimes, during breaks, a large group will gather at the front of the building. The language is coarse and unbelievably loud and often there is a boom box blaring. I have always been able to disperse them by putting on Elaine Stritch belting show tunes. No Business Like Show Business works like a charm.

Posted by: Victoria on February 27, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Laws? Are there some countries that still have those?

You always hear about how quaint England is. How quaint. Even quainter than the Geneva Conventions!

Posted by: The Fool on February 27, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I want one of these things in my house. I would put it over the door to the room I hide in when I need 20 minutes of quiet time after work, and would turn it on to keep my kids away.

Posted by: wihntr on February 27, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

What's worse is that those things are actually damaging the kids' hearing.

Is that legal?

Why don't we make safe spaces for kids to hang out, instead of treating them like vermin?

Posted by: Crissa on February 27, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

I am suprised that businesses that try these devices don't find bricks through their windows - which is what would happen if they were facing real gangs and the devices worked.

I suspect that half the truth is that the devices don't work as effectively as the makers claim and the other half is that they are not being used on gangs as claimed. The company that makes these devices is just the UK equivalent of TASER corp and their statements are about as trustworthy.

The difference between the US and the UK is that in the US any shopkeeper who deployed one of these devices would find themselves on the sharp end of a lawsuit. In the UK it takes a while to force the issue.

Posted by: PHB on February 27, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, those clever Britons!

Posted by: CT on February 27, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

This is absurd. I can't imagine how this would be defended in a court of law. My hometown has been doing the whole classical music thing downtown, as well, to keep away those meddlesome kids. They hung speakers high up in some trees in the downtown plaza. Can't say it's done more to annoy teens than the rest of us.

Posted by: Asher Miller on February 27, 2008 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK
Lawful? Why shouldn't it be lawful? Store owners have a right to look after their customers. Young kids loitering outside of a business are often trouble. I think that it's a brilliant solution; it doesn't hurt them, and everyone-except the kids, of course-is happy. Posted by: mollycoddle on February 27, 2008 at 5:46 AM

It's unlawful because it extents beyond their property boundaries. And how exactly are kids playing soccer a menace to the shop's customers?

My hearing, even at the age of 45, is still good enough to hear that sound (I downloaded the ring tone). I think they're creating a public nuisance and frankly I'd be tempted to throw a brick through the store's window myself.

The children have the right not to be physically assaulted when they are not threatening or harming anyone. The store owners might as well gone out and tasered them. I mean it doesn't cause any permit damage either, right?


If one of my children were assaulted with something like this both the store and the manufacturer would be slapped with lawsuits and a boycott.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 27, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus: I think a boycott, of the store at least, is the whole idea. And just what manufacturer would you boycott? I don't imagine you are buying any of these things anyway.

Posted by: jeri on February 27, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

There's still a lot of greenery in the UK, but unless they have built a huge number of parks and playgrounds in the past 15 years, there really aren't a lot of places for children to play in.

Posted by: Doug on February 27, 2008 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

"The United Kingdom should not be confused with the United States.

Two different nations with different approaches to property, privacy, and freedom."

Quite so. We don't run Guantanamo Bay, wiretap without a court warrant or operate rendition programs.

I do object to the Mosquito though; at an absolute minimum all the local parents should boycott the store. It's symptomatic of the mechanisation of policing too; the Police Federation (union) makes a big song and dance about how officers can't possibly be expected to patrol on their own, as a consequence of which they get put out in pairs and told to cover a much bigger area which, of course, necessitates a car to do it in.

KathyF is, of course, absolutely on the money - if only we could prove that it upset dogs too there would be a national outcry and it would be banned on pain of death.

Oddly enough, the mouth-frothed Daily Mail (a journal whose headlines are a random computer generated sequence of the words immigrant, paedophile, muslim, benefit scrounger and cancer) has been strangely silent on this one, despite its ongoing tub-thumping about how "normal" people shouldn't have to hear the call to prayer from local mosques as it's an invasion of their personal space.

Posted by: Ally on February 28, 2008 at 3:52 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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