Extremist Engineers, Election Day Edition

The story starts out the usual way: political lawn signs are secretly stolen and replaced with the opposition's political lawn signs.

Shawn Turschak, the owner of the pilfered signs, decides to fight back: he runs wires from his house and hooks the signs into a power source for an electric pet fence. The goal being to deliver a shocking surprise to the next person who tries to steal his political signage.

The problem is, the next person is a 9-year-old boy. Enter angry parents, police, and media.

No harm done, in any case--the little boy was fine and probably learned an important lesson about other people's property that day. But am I wrong to think it seems a little, um, extreme to booby-trap a $1.10 corrugated lawn sign with a $200 pet fence?

Well:

Turschak, who has a degree in electrical engineering, said he tested the shock on himself while wiring the signs, and did so again while a reporter watched Wednesday, touching both signs repeatedly without flinching.

A while back we ran a story on extremist engineers; political scientist Steffen Hertog and sociology professor Diego Gambetta analyzed the records of 404 people from 30 countries who had engaged in political violence between 2005 and 2007. The academic pursuit most represented in this batch was engineering, of the electrical, computer and civil varieties.

â''Engineering," Hertog said by way of explanation, "seems to attract a larger share of people drawn to rule-bound systems.â''

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