Hypothetical Mean

Commentary from an Actuarial and Economic Perspective

White Flour, Terrorist Threat

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On August 24, Dr. Daniel Salchow, of New Haven, CT, was charged with breaching the peace, a Class D felony. His crime? Laying a running trail in flour. White flour, that is.

The Hash House Harriers, an international running group, has been laying running trails in white flour for almost 70 years. When an elderly lady saw someone dropping piles of white flour in an Ikea parking lot, she called the police. As runners finished their run, they alerted Dr. Salchow of the problem. He promptly rode back to Ikea to resolve the situation. Too late. Somehow, it took until 8:15 to wrap up the threat.

Three years ago, while setting a Hash trail I was stopped by the Hot Springs, AR, police. We had called the department ahead of time to warn them that we would be setting a trail with white flour through the downtown area. When asked what I was putting on the ground, I creatively said “flour”. I was covered in the stuff. I was a “live hare”, which means that I was running while laying trail. The officer looked at me skeptically.  Apparently, I immediately signaled “Al Qeada” in his mind.

I offered to give him a sample if he didn’t believe me. I can still remember his look of feigned fear as he replied that as an officer, he couldn’t touch “suspicious material”. A two pound bag marked “FLOUR” was “suspicious”. Whatever. The passers by were friendly, chatting, no one with half a brain was the least bit fearful. But the policeman had to be a tough guy. “You know how this looks …” he kept repeating. I was let off with a warning probably because I didn’t respond with, “yeah, it looks like you are being really stupid”.

Our fear has gotten out of hand. Flour is a convenient, biodegradeable way to set a temporary trail. The run in New Haven was 4 miles long, likely with piles of white flour place periodically so the runners could follow. But they only cordoned off a couple of blocks. I guess the police couldn’t follow the trail. Great. And if this was like most Hash runs, each pile of flour would represent a ton of anthrax, delivered in an absurdly inefficient manner — scattered in small piles periodically throughout the terrorists’ prime target: the Ikea furniture parking lot in New Haven, CT.  It’s almost like someone warned us that “if you use your brain, the terrorists win.” Just a little bit of thinking goes a long way here, people.

When asked whether a breach of the peace charge was too severe for setting a running trail in flour, the New Haven paper quoted police officer Joseph Avery as responding, “Asked whether breach of peace, which is a felony, was too severe a charge for someone marking their running trail, Avery said, “I think the question we should be asking is: ‘What did their act cost the city of New Haven?'”

Mr. Avery, their act cost the city nothing. It was your department’s over-reaction that cost the city of New Haven.


Written by Victor

August 28, 2007 at 3:51 am

Posted in Terrorism

One Response

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  1. Let’s not forget the bit about laying anthrax with one’s bare hands …

    – John F. Fay


    January 22, 2010 at 4:19 am

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