Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Bye bye bad guys

While there was originally some controversy about the feasability of the “liquid explosive” concept, the case has been decided this week. Three of the eight men linked to the plot have been convicted of plotting to bomb airliners; a fourth was convicted of conspiracy to murder.

These men were detected using intercepted communications under a FISA warrant. They were kept in a normal jail until they went to normal court to be sentenced by a normal judge in the UK. They will soon be placed into a regular prison, where they will expect to spend many years with their fellow British prisoners, whom they plotted to kill.  I don’t expect them to have a good time there.

Somehow, there are commentators who claim this is in some way a vindication of warrantless wiretaps, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, or military tribunals. Um…no.  Every single step of this case followed existing laws, and once the men were in custody the case was in the public view. It seems this proves that our (and British) law enforcement and intelligence professionals are quite capable of catching bad guys within the law as it stands today. Good for us, bad for bad guys.

Confusing Issues

I’m not sure why so many people on the Right seem to confuse issues and conflate things which are separate and completely unrelated to one another. For instance, during our local Tea Party II this July (Tea Party II, Electric Boogaloo?), instead of sticking to the point of the group (Taxed Enough Already), and only discussing tax-related issues, they wandered off into the fringe areas of Birthers and illegal aliens and any number of other things. The birthers are insane, and the other issues, even if legitimate points to discuss, are just clouding the waters of their own rally. Want to protest high taxes, ignoring the lower taxes on all but the very rich?  Go for it. Bring up birth certificates and migrant workers and NAFTA and every other John Birch Society conspiracy theory?  Not helping your case, buddy.

Now, we have the 2nd Amendment folks coming to protest health care reform. Huh? I’m a great fan of the Constitution, with all its amendments. It is the supreme law of the land, and is able to be modified through force of great will by the citizenry, so reflects the ideals of the country to a great degree. Those ideals include the government not infringing on our rights in the areas of speech, religion, gathering, trials, and yes even bearing arms. I spent 12 years defending the Constitution; good for anyone who follows its guidelines. When a photographer gets treated as a terrorist for taking a picture of a public structure from a public place, I am thrilled to see people rise up and proclaim that photographer’s rights – defending others keeps our own rights intact as well.

But, why are these people bringing weapons to a health care reform protest (leaving aside why anyone not employed by insurance companies or already on government-subsidized health care would protest the minor and remarkably toothless reforms that will likely get passed)? Are these just normal citizens, who normally take their weapons wherever they go? That seems unlikely. I doubt the fellow in the tie with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder will be taking that rifle to work with him. He deliberately brought it to this event. If it’s not an implicit threat of violence, what is it? I may be looking at things rather simplistically, but this sure looks like someone saying, “if you don’t do what I say, I’ll shoot someone.”

Beware the Spinal Trap

(Note: this is an edited version of the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines. Why edited? English libel laws make Singh at risk if the full article were published even in the USA.)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Ex Post Facto Law

From Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, 1787:

No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

From the United States Congress, July 2008:

Companies such as AT&T were granted immunity under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FISAAA). The law gave companies immunity from lawsuits if the U.S. government provided proof to a court that the surveillance was authorized by the president, was legal or did not occur. It applied to surveillance that happened between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 17, 2007.

From U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, June 2009:

Screw you, citizens! Ex post facto is a great idea!

I’m astounded that the judge could find in this way. Immunizing organizations or people for breaking laws that were in effect at the time the crime was committed sets a horrible precedent. The lawsuits were filed in 2006, and the law was passed two years later to make the cases moot. That’s an amazing piece of legislative interference in judicial matters. Silly separation of powers. Silly constitution.

War On Drugs Claims More Victims

How many times is a variation on this story going to come out before someone finally realizes the absurdity of “no knock” warrants and the entire facade of the War on (Some) Drugs? Police shoot, kill two dogs during raid. They were looking for someone, nameless, and hydrocodone. Um, isn’t that the drug Rush Limbaugh uses? How is it legal to have a warrant for an address, with no name on it?

Another recent dog killing, in Tampa Bay.  This one, the dog’s owner wasn’t being interrogated or searched, she was voluntarily answering a query from a cop when the cop just plugged her pup in the skull and then walked away.

A state Senate hearing on the increasing militarization of our humble protectors, who are allowed to break into people’s homes without warrants in some cases, and don’t need to identify themselves or even have to apologize later for fucking it all up.

A pit bull who looks far too much like Leo, gunned down by cops looking for a DUI suspect by randomly running through people’s yards and shooting their pets.

Previous post on same subject.

Chemistry Sets are Scary

When I was 8 years old, I had two chemistry sets.  I went through all sorts of experiments, producing acids that I used to clean/destroy small objects, color-changing things, etc. I’ve seen several times over the past few years stories about the new chemistry sets, which apparently don’t contain any chemicals more interesting than tannic acid (tea extract). We don’t want our young people to grow up curious about science, obviously.

And then there is the curious case of Lewis Casey, who was arrested on suspicion of making meth in his garage. When it was proven rather easily that his chemistry lab was merely a chemistry lab (he’s a college chemistry major), the Canadian government charged him with making bombs instead. Have you ever heard the term “chilling effect” before?

Casey is no longer allowed to engage in chemistry experiments except under supervision in school labs. 

That’s insane.


According to this ABC report, a Reserve linguist is blabbing about some NSA program that targeted Americans.  I sure hope that she is being covered by some sort of Congressional exemption, cuz otherwise she’s kind of violating one of those NDAs like the one I signed this morning (probably the twentieth or more identical form I’ve signed over the years).  Strange that there’s no specific statement that the “whistleblower” is protected that way, but I guess journalists don’t have the same focus as intel geeks.

Police Acted Responsibly While Killing Dogs and Harassing Innocents

In case anyone thinks the War on (some) Drugs is working or is in any way a boon to American peace and freedom, check out this story on the mayor of a DC-area town. The mayor and his mother-in-law were tied up, the family’s two dogs were just shot out-of-hand, and all this with not a single “no-knock” warrant issued. So, by the rules of the country we thought we lived in, the police should have knocked and asked the suspect to surrender so they could search the house.  Not even close to what happened.

Meanwhile, the entire thing is such an incredible cockup to begin with. The police say that it’s possible the mayor of the town was having 30 pounds of marijuana delivered to his door. Seriously. That’s not been ruled out, even though the police have arrested two other men who are implicated in a scheme to deliver marijuana to unsuspecting innocents, using the front porches of random strangers as drop points for passing drugs to other dealers. But the mayor may be a druggie. Right.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis has cops shaking down drug dealers for cash and drugs. Police in Atlanta are known to carry drugs in their patrol cars to plant on suspects, and shoot elderly women.

All of them, no doubt, acted responsibly.

Plays for not much longer

Remember when the MSN Music Store shut down over a year ago? Remember that Microsoft said that songs you “bought” from the MSN Music Store were going to be yours to keep forever? Guess what, sucker? After August, you can’t upgrade your computer without losing your music.

Yet another in a long series of “DRM Hates Customers” stories. You’d think the computer industry ditching copy protection years ago, coupled with the complete meltdown of DRM in music over the past couple years, would make the movie industry wake up and kill their copy protection plans. You’d be wrong. Not that their DRM will hold up either… Oh, yeah – it didn’t! HAH!

Circus is in town

You may have heard a story or two on the news recently about the peculiar group of polygamists down the road from me. After attending a school function for The Boy next door to Fort Concho, I had an encounter with a Texas State Trooper.

School function, so I took photos. The sight of me with a camera was of some interest to the DPS officer, apparently. He asked if I’d been taking photos of the Fort, which of course I hadn’t been and told him that. Then he turned friendly and wished me a good day. About 50 meters down the street, I passed a man with a massive camera taking photos of the Fort, while standing in the street. Guess he was too obvious.

Anyway, I know that there are many issues (privacy, witness tampering, yada yada) involved in this mess, and I’m not about to raise a fuss about a rather minor thing, but I’m allowed to take photos of just about anything I want to. I can’t help but wonder how the conversation would have gone if I’d actually been so bold as to have taken a photo of Officer Friendly or (gasp!) even of the State Park, while standing on a public street. I’m sure the sky would have fallen.

Sure hope this circus is over soon. Housing all those people on the Fort has already caused at least one event cancellation.  This town uses the area for many community days.

Nothing to Fear but…

Doesn’t this fit the definition of terrorism?

From the Department of Defense definition: The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Not to mention, are the producers of 24 getting a cut of this blatant ripoff?


As I watched Mark Klein on the news this morning, it occurred to me that none of the major internet peers care about their customers.  In a world where one of the peers was more concerned with the safety of their data and less concerned with sucking up to the government, AT&T would have been routed around via a DNS poisoning. Any organization which cannot be trusted to keep the data on the internet safe and secure should simply not be trusted with that data.

Yet, none of the peers dropped AT&T as a peer. They continued to route data through AT&T’s routers, even as it became perfectly clear that AT&T was copying all the data as it went by for analysis by the government.


Karl Schroeder has released Ventus as a free ebook download.  It’s very good.  If you’re interested in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, post-apocalyptic fiction (not strictly speaking, but a reversion to more primitive life yada yada), or just good speculative fiction about the future of humanity, give it a read.

Now to add a bunch of Schroeder books to my Amazon wishlist…


One of my coworkers was bemoaning the proposal to restore habeas corpus rights to the suspects in Guantanamo.  I tried to get him to understand that the rule of law is dependent on treating everyone, friend or foe, as a human being with certain inalienable rights.  That phrase may be in some document you’ve heard of but probably never read completely.

Anyway, I just don’t get it.  There are so many people who seem to think that, just because someone has been apprehended and stored in the extra-national prison in Gitmo, they are automatically evil and their life is forfeit.  Since when did accusation equal conviction?  How can allowing them a day in court in any way weaken our national strength or safety?

Just as popular speech doesn’t need protection, but only the unpopular speech, so too do obviously innocent people not need their rights protected as strongly as the suspicious ones.  Nobody would be able to get away with randomly throwing people into prison, one would hope.  But, if the selection wasn’t random, but instead fit in with preconceived notions of what a bad guy looked like, or where a bad guy lived, or what religion a bad guy held…all bets are off.  Making decisions based on emotion rather than on evidence and facts leads to a very slippery slope.  Of course, maybe this is all a vast conspiracy, and someone has been looking at ways of converting a democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship.  Hint: look in Austrian history in the 1930s, or Zimbabwe today.

Ted Nugent, Right-wing Hero

Every so often, Ted Nugent shows up on Faux News or in a print publication, and he gets to hold the unenviable position of the Cool Republican. After all, according to conventional wisdom, most of the entertainment industry is filled with crazy lefties, but Nugent is the edgy guy in the GOP.

He’s so edgy, he brought a couple of weapons on stage (they appear to be M16s, so they are probably AR-15s) , and waved them around. Ooh, edgy. And then, he screamed obscenities about a variety of Democratic politicians. Edgy. He told Senator Obama (who he respectfully calls a piece of shit) to suck on his machine gun. Um, edgy? Senator Clinton, lovingly called a worthless bitch, is told to ride a gun into the sunset. WTF?

In an interview with Sean Hannity, Nugent spoke of Democrats (in response to a former Hustler writer saying he had dibs on Rush Limbaugh for conservative hunting season), “I find it just reprehensible that they would recommend violence, not to mention murder and shooting people and assassinating people. This is bizarre.”

You’re right, Nuge. It is bizarre.
You can find the video if you search online. I’m not linking to that crap.

Jingoism is not Patriotism

This photo essay points out a few of the problems I have with the pro-war movement. They trust the central government and they love the flag, and they believe that patriots love war.

The pro-war group equates being anti-war with being anti-soldier. Considering how many soldiers and veterans are anti-war, that seems unlikely. Although we were trained to go to war, no sane person yearns for it. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

The trust of a strong central government goes against the themes we see in the Constitution. You might have heard of the Constitution; it’s what helps define the rights of the citizenry and what powers we, the people, allow the central government to have. If you’ve ever actually read the thing, you may have noticed a strong distrust of elected representatives, and particularly a distrust of a strong executive officer.

And the co-option of the American flag as being a symbol of war and something which no anti-war demonstrator is permitted to hold is just shameful. Not only is it shameful that the pro-war folks believe that the flag is something to hide behind while you kill people, it’s shameful that the anti-war folks don’t have the guts to use the flag themselves. We the people not only have the right but the duty to question our elected representatives. The decisions made in Washington are our decisions, as a country. And when we disagree with those decisions, it is our job to make our employees account for themselves. Those people in DC are not better than us, they are not superior to us, they work for us. When we willingly bow to them and say their decisions cannot be questioned, we invite them to do what they will in all things. When the Iraq War has over 70% disapproval from the citizens of this country, if we didn’t see people calling for a pullout, we’d be telling the people inside the Beltway that they can run roughshod over all the less important opinions as well.

Adult Swim Bombs

What moronic wanker of a “security expert” decided that the Adult Swim guerrilla advertising devices were improvised explosive devices? Improvised Light Bright, maybe!

They shut down significant portions of Boston for these things.  Look at them.  Would you have done anything besides say, “that is the ugliest creature to flip me off ever?”

Plays for Sure?

In the continuing saga of Microsoft punking its customers and partners, they’re killing the MSN Music store. Due to legal requirements, they’ll offer links to the Real PlaysForSure/RDNA music store, as well as the Microsoft Zune Store.

Real is moving away from PlaysForSure to their Rhapsody DNA, paired with the Sansa e200R series. Napster never really got much traction as a legit music store. MyCokeMusic, a UK music download store, is gone. I see a trend here. PlaysForSure, which never really had the market penetration of the iTunes AAC digital restrictions software, is dead and just doesn’t know it.

Anyone who bought music from a DRM-encrusted store is a sucker to begin with, but if you have PlaysForSure music, now might be a good time to stop buying any more of it, and find a copy of the FairUse4WM program and convert those soon-to-not-work tracks into something more lasting.