Brandi Reads: The Berenstain Bears Lost In Cyberspace
Real-Talk About The ‘Net
During a classroom discussion on screen names, Babs mentions that she thinks it’s weird that both of the screen names she wanted in her poetry group, “Huff” and “Puff” are taken. Teacher Bob has to explain that it’s not at all weird, it’s a coincidence that other people had those names. Babs, dibs exist in cyberspace. Babs is going to lose her damn mind when she has to get a new email address or a Twitter handle. Teacher Bob then asks Cousin Fred to define “coincidence” and cousin Fred does because he reads encyclopedias and dictionaries for fun (it says that) and he will grow up to correct people on Wikipedia.
“Of course, coincidences happen all the time,” said Teacher Bob. “And most of them are ordinary everyday coincidences. We’ve all had the experience of running into somebody you didn’t expect to see at the supermarket or the Burger Bear. Or when you’re about to call somebody on the phone, the phone rings and it’s the person you were about to call (51).”
I wish Teacher Bob was around when Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” dropped.
Teacher Bob then adds, “But some coincidences could be dangerous! (51)” Because foreshadowing.
Better Know A Rich Person
Eventually, Bonnie explains to Brother that she hadn’t been around because her uncle told her to keep her laptop use quiet until he rolled out the laptop program. One of my friends has pointed out that Squire Grizzly is giving off some strong Howard Hughes vibes. Anyway, Bonnie invites Brother over to the Squire’s, where she lives, for some homework and chill.
Squire Grizzly’s mansion is more like a castle than a mansion. There are at least four different architectural styles going on here.
Squire Grizzly’s mansion is the Winchester Mansion, the Versailles house or any of these houses on the list of the largest homes in the US. It’s really ugly.
The Squire is building a moat because everyone hates him. Bears are good at swimming, so that seems like a waste of resources but whatever.
“My uncle is very security-minded,” Bonnie explained. “He has a good reason to be. While he’s a darling at home, he’s a very tough businessbear. You don’t get to be the richest bear in Bear Country without making some enemies (60).”
Bonnie also reveals that people also want to steal his paintings and antiques. And, I’m basing this on a strong hunch and nothing else, the Bear Feds probably will seize Squire’s assets one day.
Squire Grizzly will go on to be an early investor in Facebear, helping Mark Zuckerbear get to 500 million friends while making a few enemies. I’m extraordinarily interested in Squire’s backstory. How did he make his money? How illegal is what he is doing?
Brother wonders what it is like having a rich uncle bear and then the butler brought cheeseburgers, so the short answer: very dope. The Butler and Babs Bruno’s parents are the only adults at home in this entire book.
Poetry Doesn’t Pay
Babs was on a poetry chatroom/message board where all kinds of terrible poetry is being shared. Two users trade poems.
No idea what this could mean!
Before going to bed that night, Babs prints out all the poems in the chatroom. The next morning she goes through the poems and decides that she’s going to use the good ones to make a book.
That’s right, this kid is straight-up stealing intellectual property. I made a haiku for your book, Babs.
Hey Babs here’s a poem
Stop stealing people’s hard work
J/k you’ll get rich
I now know where The Fat Jew learned to steal.
On the way to school, Babs saw several more poems between Huff and Puff and freaked out. She ran to the schoolyard and shouted, “Emergency! Some kind of big crime is coming down on the Internet!” The kids all rush to tell Teacher Bob. Yes, she said “coming down.” Who speaks like that?
Teacher Bob is justifiably skeptical of the student’s claims that a crime is being planned in a poetry chat room but he still has a look. He reads the notes aloud, because if there’s a murder plot, all the kids need to know about it. Brother realizes and shouts that “SG” is squire Grizzly. The classroom spins into chaos. Bonnie Brown, as anyone would upon finding out people want to murder their loved one, is freaking out. Teacher Bob then removes himself and Bonnie from the class and goes to get Principal Honeycomb.
Just kidding, that would make too much sense.
Teacher Bob continues reading poems while Bonnie continues to freak out. Babs Bruno runs and calls her dad, the police chief. Because this is a situation that needs to be handled by a child.
Babs gets Officer Marguerite on the phone but Officer M won’t put the chief on the phone because he’s dealing with an emergency too. At this point, Teacher Bob resumes adulting.
Teacher Bob grabbed the phone. “This is Teacher Bob, Officer Marguerite! We’ve got information about a crime — a threat to Grizzly Mansion! It was picked up on the Internet, and we’ve got the printouts to prove it!” He paused to listen. “Okay! Okay! Will do!” He crashed the phone down and said, “They’re dealing with the same emergency! They want us at the police station right away with these printouts (81).”
Teacher Bob then piles into the mini-van with the kids and they go to the police station.
- There’s a principal. He should be in the loop.
- There are other teachers, leave the kids.
- No cops could make it down to the school to pick up this info?
- The parents really should be notified of this.
- I can’t believe the police are using kids to help with your terrorism investigation.
- Is there 911 in this town or do they just depend on a connected cub?
- How many cubs does Teacher Bob’s van seat? By the way, there’s a cub in a wheelchair. There’s room for him and his wheelchair?
When the cubs get to the station, they’re impressed by how “calm and business-like” the station is. No part of what is happening is business-like.
The police display a threatening letter Squire had received earlier in the day next to Babs’ printouts. The chief points out that the first note is an extortion letter.
Bonnie, who is still watching this all go down, wants to know what they’re going to do about her aunt and uncle. The police chief calmly responds.
“They’re perfectly safe,” said the chief. “They’ve moved into one of the squire’s hotels. They and their entire staff have taken over the top two floors. Security at the hotel is one hundred percent. That’s where you’ll be living until we deal with this threat.
It’s still morning. Why was Bonnie allowed to go to school? If they moved the aunt and uncle in the time that she went to school, why didn’t someone tell the school or come and get Bonnie?
Chief Bruno goes on to explain that the SWAT team from Big Bear City has been called and then offers to show the cubs, including traumatized Bonnie, how the police use computers.
Teacher Bob wants to know why the extortionists are using the internet.
“It’s hard to say,” said the chief. “Maybe one of them is the mastermind and stays far from the action. Or, maybe, they’re afraid of phone taps. You can’t tap the Internet. Actually, the Internet is a pretty safe place for criminals. It was a zillion-to-one chance that Babs picked up their traffic on the Young Poets chat room. But I’ve got to get to work. We’ve got to start somewhere (86).”
The chief pulls up a list of all the criminals in town known for extortion. Based on Bab’s printouts he narrows down the list to bears who like bombing stuff. One suspect sticks out.
J. Arthur Bruin, who goes by the amazing alias “Lord Huff ’n’ Puff.” He certainly looks like the guy on paper:
Couldn’t be the guy, he’s in prison!
Oh, nevermind it was that guy and the case got solved.
Later, Teacher Bob’s class is watching Chief Bruno being interviewed by a reporter.
And is it true that it was Teacher Bob’s class at Bear Country School that picked up on the computer traffic that solved the case?…And..that it was your very own daughter, Babs Bruno, who found that traffic on the Young Poets chat room? Have I got that right — the Young Poets chat room?”
“You’ve got it right,” said the chief with a glow of pride.
Bear Country News clearly has no ethics when it comes to revealing the names of minors involved in criminal investigations and, more importantly, why is the police department releasing this information? The police chief just went ahead and confirmed that his daughter and her classmates were responsible for bringing down this criminal syndicate. For a police chief that is very concerned about keeping kids safe of this internet, this is…it’s something.
And now we come to my favorite part of this story: why Lord Huff ’n’ Puff was allowed online. Was it a Bear Country jobs program? Nope. He doesn’t need computer training, he “…is a real computer expert. So much so that he was put in charge of the whole prison computer system (95).”
They put this criminal in charge of the entire prison network. Y’all. Y’ALL.
But surely the anchor will ask who let this happen and why.
“But wasn’t he supervised?” asked the anchor.
“Well,” said the chief, “the prison listens in on all phone calls and all talks between prisoners and visitors, but it’s pretty hard to supervise a computer. It takes just seconds to get messages out over the Internet. And the Young Poets chat room was a perfect cover (95).”
I would have asked why someone who was convicted of a plot to bomb a bank remotely was allowed near a computer. I’m also wondering about the area employment situation. They couldn’t find someone who wasn’t a inmate to be the sysadmin for the prison? Did they not have a budget?
I also like how the police chief just pulls a Jeb! Bush and says, “Stuff happens!” The police chief then went on to explain that his brother kept America safe after the first Lord Huff ’n’ Puff almost-attack. Probably.
Although, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 restricted which internet communications the government could intercept, so the government clearly knew they needed to start paying attention to some people’s online habits. And in 1996, the first internet wiretap led to Julio Cesar Ardita pleading guilty of breaking into Harvard’s network and attacking other sites. A timeline of government spying that was a jumping off point for this paragraph can be found here.
Anyway, you’ll be happy to know that Lord Huff ’n’ Puff isn’t going to get away with what he did. According to Chief Bruno,
“I think it’s fair to say that his sentence will be extended and his computer privileges will be taken away (96).”
It’s not a privilege to be in charge of the entire computer network at the prison, it’s a job. There is a serious problem with inmates being exploited and paid significantly below minimum wage. Something tells me Bear Country Prison also contracted out its prisoners to make cheese for Bear Foods, a subsidiary of Whole Foods. I’m going to guess that the Bear Country Prison did not have a budget to hire a legit sysadmin. Well, at least Lord Huff ’n’ Puff is going to have a boring offline job now.
Chief Bruno does have some limits on what info he will spill to the press. He refuses to confirm whether the entire gang has been captured. Unlike his daughter’s name and school, the public does not need to know whether the violent criminal syndicate is still operating in their town.
Teacher Bob knows that Babs Bruno has the goods on the case, so he turns off the television and asks her if she has any details. Of course she does.
The SWAT team from Big Bear City caught Huff, the outside guy, in the moat outside of Squire Grizzly’s mansion with a bomb. The rest of the gang was up the road in a getaway car.
Given that the police had a ransom note already, they could have easily cracked the case by doing a simple stakeout. This book was written in 1999, I find it hard to believe no one involved watched Law & Order. Then again, based on everything in this book, that just might be the case.
But yay, the class helped solve the big crime. Everyone in the class is pretty stoked. Except one person…
Bonnie Brown. Bonnie is crying in a corner because HOLY SHIT, HER FAMILY ALMOST GOT MURDERED.
Does this school have any kind of support services for the kids?
Too-Tall makes Bonnie laugh and the kids tried to get to work.
In the end, all the students went back to normal. Nerds were doing nerdy things and bullies were bullying. That weekend, the entire class decided to go see a movie together and Bonnie Brown and Brother Bear sat together holding hands.
That’s it. Thanks for sticking with this! I wonder what would happen if you gave a tween this book today. How would they reconcile the anonymous nature of 1999's internet with today’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat? Would they have some of the basic logistical questions I had?
I could write some grand observations about children and the internet (and cybercrime, privacy and technology in education) but I’d rather not. I just wanted to share the most ridiculous book about the internet that I’ve ever read.