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Biotech United States

Justice Department's Bio-terror Mistake 477

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-deadly-than-the-mooninites dept.
destinyland writes "University professor and artist Steve Kurtz publicizes the history of chemical weapons with performance art pieces. The day his wife died of a heart attack, 911 responders mistook his scientific equipment for bioterrorism supplies. After he was detained for 22 hours, Homeland Security cordoned off his block, and a search was performed on his house in hazmat suits, they found nothing. Now they're prosecuting him for "mail fraud" for the way he obtained $256 of harmless bacteria."
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Justice Department's Bio-terror Mistake

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  • Terror is winning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:56PM (#20763813)
    Incidents like this and other such just prove that terror(ists) are winning. Post 9/11, everybody is still in panic.
    • by zxnos (813588)
      just proves that those who have 'power' cant be wrong...
      • by TarPitt (217247) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:09PM (#20763921)
        Power without ethics IS terrorism
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I hold that power, the special "right" to employ coercion (meaning physical force) as one's means, is unethical by its own definition. Imagine if the common man could posess that special right -- your neighbor for example -- I doubt you'd claim that such a scenario could possibly be ethical.

          So what's so different about government? Government is, after all, nothing but a collection of common men. If all men are supposedly equal, then how did some men (government) obtain the ability to suspend the code of eth
        • Re:Terror is winning (Score:4, Informative)

          by Bacon Bits (926911) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @10:16AM (#20768991)
          No, power without ethics is tyranny.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sciros (986030)
          Wrong. Power without ethics is power without ethics. It may become despotism or a number of things, but it is NOT terrorism and to define terrorism in such broad (besides inaccurate) terms is to make terrorism seem less heinous and more common than it is. It also makes me question whether you are trying to get some political agenda across with such statements. There exist [many] unethical leaders who are not terrorists.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SueAnnSueAnn (998877)
      Actually the terrorists are in our government.

      This is one of over a hundred such cases.

      Hale to the Fatherland.

      Sue
    • by kamapuaa (555446) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:33PM (#20764097) Homepage
      Did you skip the part about the guy recreating 50's Germ Warfare experiments? This isn't an irrational paranoid panic response. I'd hope any government organization anywhere in the world would thoroughly investigate all recreations of Germ Warfare experiments. What would you suggest, the government just letting things slide?

      It's not panic, it's just common sense.

    • Re:Terror is winning (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TaleSpinner (96034) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @01:13AM (#20764659)
      No. Terrorism has already won. I sat there on 9/11, watching the news and crying. Crying for the innocent people who were murdered, yes, but also crying for the end of freedom. The end of civil rights. I knew at that moment that "liberty" would never again be anything but a hollow mockery of itself. I knew the gov't - to "protect" us - would strip us of the entire Bill of Rights and more besides. And that is exactly what they did. What RICO began, what the "War on (Some) Drugs" carried through, we, ourselves, through our government, have completed. And don't lecture me about the Republicans did this or the Democrats did something else. Both sides of the aisle voted for these things. Both share the blame.

      As Franklin observed, those who would trade their liberty for imagined security deserve neither. And now we have neither, nor are we ever going to. There are times when I look at my 10 year old son and I am consumed with guilt at what I have brought him into.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by phiwum (319633)
        No. Terrorism has already won. I sat there on 9/11, watching the news and crying. Crying for the innocent people who were murdered, yes, but also crying for the end of freedom. The end of civil rights. I knew at that moment that "liberty" would never again be anything but a hollow mockery of itself. I knew the gov't - to "protect" us - would strip us of the entire Bill of Rights and more besides. And that is exactly what they did. What RICO began, what the "War on (Some) Drugs" carried through, we, ourselve
        • by BlackSabbath (118110) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @07:27AM (#20766859) Homepage
          "There are relatively few days when we really notice the changes affecting us personally."

          In most of the world's undemocratic regimes, life goes on as normal for most people. They get up, do their thing, come home, go to bed, and start all over again the next day. Most of these regimes are considered undemocratic and are on UN and State Department lists as human rights abusers.

          Yes, life goes on as normal for most people, just like it did in Germany in the late 30's and the Soviet bloc countries before the 90's. Normal ... that is, until malice or circumstance force you to the edge of the normal curve and for some reason or other you come to the attention of those whose attention is most unwelcome. Then you get to notice the changes up close.

          But hey - for your neighbours this will just be one of those "relatively few days when we really notice the changes affecting us personally".

          If you've got 5 minutes lookup Martin Niemöller.

          Lack of empathy among the governed is the greatest boon to those with dictatorial ambitions.
          • This is not a case of society giving up any rights. You don't have the right to be above suspicion in you wifes suspicious death. You also don't have the right to be a moron with impunity.

            Anyone see that cell phone add where a bunch of people doing different stuff all get an IM and rush off to some super market. They all act very suspicious and then do a cart race in the middle of the store. I think that ad should have a gun shot at the end. I know that will strike some of you as odd or bad, but w
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:00PM (#20763835)
    What was in the package and what was claimed to have been in the package are identical... that's not fraud.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xonstantine (947614)
      Uh, the fraud was probably misrepresentation of either his credentials or the purpose of purchasing the bioligical sample.
      • by ivan256 (17499) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:16PM (#20763977)
        The "fraud" was actually probably another case of prosecuting somebody who should walk because the authority in question feels they need a conviction to justify their investigation.

        It's the same stupid reason we're going to try to send a perfectly innocent college student to jail for wearing blinking lights on her shirt to the airport.

        The search and investigation were probably justified. The prosecution almost certainly isn't. When did we forget that it's OK to do an investigation which turns up no evidence of guilt?
        • by Christopher_Edwardz (1036954) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:55PM (#20764233)

          When did we forget that it's OK to do an investigation which turns up no evidence of guilt?

          Right around the time "probable cause" made it OK to ignore the constitution and [investigate|terrorize|go on a fishing expedition with] anyone the powers that be don't like.

          This would also be right around the same time that the whole "double jeopardy" thing got worked around by filing state charges and then federal charges back-to-back or after losing in one arena.

          The "fraud charge" gambit probably references some technicality in WHY he wanted them evil-smarty-things that no honest (stupid|docile|sheep) citizen would want.

          The government's agenda for a while has been Citizen = stupid. After all, no citizen should be able to create or research or learn anything without A) A university to pay money to or B) a large corporation in which to be enslaved, right?

          C.E.

        • by pipingguy (566974) *
          because the authority in question feels they need a conviction to justify their investigation.

          If "authorities" are so fragile that they cannot admit that they made a mistake (or at least apologize and move on, mumbling something about "we had to be sure") there's a real problem.

          Perhaps admitting error is a sign of weakness to some people. To me it's a sign of strength and character.

          Wearing blinking lights attached to a strange-looking device to an airport as a publicity stunt for an art project is an
        • by misanthrope101 (253915) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @12:44AM (#20764515)

          When did we forget that it's OK to do an investigation which turns up no evidence of guilt?
          Whoa there, buddy, back up a bit. Investigations cost taxpayers money. Offices with low conviction rates don't get budget raises. Cops without a lot of conviction notches in their belt don't go on to become successful politicians. When all is said and done, investigations serve more purposes than just investigating what happened. You're acting as if the most important concern is making sure the government doesn't lock up innocent people. That's a bit old-fashioned, don't you think? Haven't you ACLU types done enough to weaken this country?
    • by 2Bits (167227)
      But that's not important whether there was fraud or not. What is important is, the government made a snafu, and there is no way they will say "sorry". So, to save face, they push the charges on. The question is, how far will they go?
    • by Odin's Raven (145278) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @12:02AM (#20764269)

      What was in the package and what was claimed to have been in the package are identical... that's not fraud.

      The fraud claim wasn't about the contents of the package - instead, it was based on how the order was placed. According to an article on AlterNet, "The $256 Question" [alternet.org] :

      [Steven] Ferrell, a geneticist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, allegedly provided Kurtz the organisms for use in an artwork, rather than using them in his own research, thereby violating an agreement he had signed when he purchased the cultures for $256 from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC).

      I think that's an accurate description from Kurtz's point of view, since I found the Alternet article via a link on the Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund's press release page [caedefensefund.org].

      So yeah, seems like there was mail fraud, but in a technically-correct-but-really-lame sense of "fraud" that reeks of desperation to pin something - anything - on Kurtz.

  • Our gov't reminds me of my little brother. Well not so little anymore, but he still accuses me of cheating every time I win a game. We need more mature people in there!
  • by shbazjinkens (776313) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:01PM (#20763847)
    I'm always scared of the day that someone finds my electronic test equipment and somehow connects it to my egg hatcher then creates a terrorist plot.

    I think this one's an incubator sir.
    For biological agents?
    I believe it's used to hatch eggs, sir.
    Eggs can be used to cultivate biological agents, proceed with the anal probe.
    He does have several dozen chickens outside...
    Damnit, follow orders or the terrorists win!
    • by megaditto (982598) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:55PM (#20764235)
      Egg hatcher at a farm is not the problem. But if someone finds an urban apartment stuffed with egg hatchers, Petri dishes, vacuum pumps, and high-speed milling equipment along with some photocopied manuals in Arabic, I would have that observer drop a dime on you as fast as it falls...

      And so was this arts professor SOL: Imagine YOU were the (non-specialist) rescuer that saw a woman go down and die in a house full of makeshift but specialized microbiological equipment whose owner is jittery to the max, and claims to be an artist, and cannot describe the equipment's purpose?

      Same for the idiot girl wearing the LEDs: handling the bricks of modelling clay out at an airport is not what a blinkenlights dork normally does. Not after the two planes blew up because of women carrying "modelling clay" a few years ago.
      • Dickhead (Score:4, Informative)

        by Max Littlemore (1001285) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @01:06AM (#20764611)

        along with some photocopied manuals in Arabic, I would have that observer drop a dime on you as fast as it falls...

        And shit for brains.

        Do you wonder why Americans and the "free world" are threatened with terrorist activity? I mean it obviously couldn't have anything to do with how you select arbitrary groups of people around the world, demonize them to make it appear moraly okay to rob them, persecute, terrorise them and kill them to further your interests?

        Could it be that so many of your most vocal and prominant figures are so obviously either corrupt or stupid? Or the fact that you insist on challenging other nations for their transgressions with regard to international law and being the world's police force while your own agencies completely disregard the rule of law, as this case highlights?

        No, it's probably because every one else is jealous of your freedom.

        Big fucking rant here, but I am so sick of seeing absolute shit like that re-inforcing propaganda on a site that is supposed to be a bit more intelligent than the usual fare. Terrorist manuals are avaliable in many languages. Copies of the SAS handbook, anarchist cookbook, etc are out there and they are not in arabic.

        I personally feel safer about Iran having a nuclear program than I do about the US having one. How many wars have Iran started in the last 50 years? How about the United States? In those wars, which nation has used WMDs? Which nation has supplied more WMDs to other nations to fight proxy wars? Which nation has taken a decade to go from cooperation to war with at least two former allies?

        Sure, Iran has threatened Isreal, but Isreal is a state born from terrorism with a total lack of regard for international law. It is a state that continues to commit human rights abuses on the population it has displaced through the theft of land. It has developed nuclear weapons, refused to sign the NNPT and given it's total disregard for the humanity of any nation around it, and the fact that Iran supports the Palestinian people, I think it is much more likely that Isreal will be the agressor in any nuclear exchange in the middle East. I support Irans nuclear program if for no other reason than to keep Isreal in check.

        Your own government commits human rights abuses and supports foreign governments that commit human rights abuses. The most extreme abuses are of course reserved for non citizens, but I believe in the rule of law and a crime is a crime. Please fuck off with your propaganda, it insults my intelligence. And don't come back with that fucking US centric democrat voting liberal shit. I don't understand your political divisions and I don't want to. My opinions are my opinions, this post is predominantly fact.

        Sincerest apologies to any intelligent americans who can see through the propaganda but feel insulted by the strong language in this rant.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by KevinIsOwn (618900)
          For someone calling other people stupid and claiming to have such a grasp of the actual facts, it would do you service to actually consider the facts regarding Israel's creation and not call it a terrorist state. The creation of Israel was far from ideal, but it was also far from terrorism. (Any logical and even handed consideration of the state's formation acknowledges major problems with Arab leadership during that time period, mainly the fact that they went directly to war)

          While you have many points in
  • Sounds about right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FoolsGold (1139759) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:02PM (#20763857)
    If they can't charge you under the original accusation, they'll simply find something they CAN charge you with, to save face.

    Heavens forbid they apologize for putting him through hell. Oh no, can't have that. That would be a sign of weakness.
  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:03PM (#20763871)
    I recognize the merit in, when a legal search is conducted, allowing the use of truly coincidental material found to charge someone with a crime. So long as the search was legal and reasonable. (Drumming up happens too much, of course.) That being said, this smacks heavily of abuse of the law, in a way related to the "Hoax device" BS about the Breadboard incident a few days ago: prosecutors or cops seeking to charge someone in order to justify the fact that they've detained the person, looking for a crime to charge a particular person with rather than observing a crime and charging the person responsible for it.

    IANAL, but oughtn't that to be illegal?
  • Dear Mr. Kurtz,

    Our bad!

    Sincerely,
    The Department of Homeland Security
  • Mail Fraud eh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jarjarthejedi (996957) <christianpinchNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:06PM (#20763895) Journal
    As per the main story, the difference between 'Harmless' bacteria and deadly ones is pretty darn slim and hard to tell if you're not an expert in the field. This isn't the same as most other situations as it's organic, and organic things are complex, and complex things are hard to examine to see if they're dangerous or not. They shouldn't have been so harsh on him, or so overzealous in the raid, but I don't see any problems with them testing the stuff. He admits that he was recreating germ warfare experiments from the 50s using different bacteria. He says the bacteria isn't harmful, but his rig is similar to one used on extremely harmful ones. So...we should just trust him that the bacteria aren't dangerous? Circumstantial evidence was heavily on the government's side here, anyone preparing to recreate germ warfare experiments should be looked at closely, even if they claim to be using harmless bacteria.

    Now again, they should not have handled it the way they did. They should have been a lot nicer and lest gung ho about the whole situation, but they should have, and did, handle the situation, and that's good.

    As for the Mail Fraud charge...I wonder what the story behind that is. That I can see in the article he never denies that he committed fraud, nor confirms it, so it seems entirely possible that they happened across this and decided to prosecute him for it, and it's also possible that they're just trying to hit him with something to make it look like they accomplished something. There's not enough info to really tell...
    • Re:Mail Fraud eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:12PM (#20763949) Homepage Journal
      It's a crazy opinion these days, because everyone is so chicken shit, but until he actually harms someone, he should be free to do whatever the hell he likes.

      • Tell me that when it is your family that dies from his "WHOOPSY!"
      • by Stickerboy (61554)
        but until he actually harms someone, he should be free to do whatever the hell he likes

        It is a crazy opinion, and it has nothing to do with the case.

        So I should be able to breed anthrax in my home, just because I love growing anthrax bacteria?

        How about if I'm just curious to know if I'm able to weaponize anthrax spores into a dry powder, so I just do it?

        On a more everyday note, I guess it's OK for husbands to hold up a gun and threaten to kill their wife and kids if she leaves him, as long as in his mind he
        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by QuantumG (50515)

          It is a crazy opinion, and it has nothing to do with the case.

          If you say so.

          So I should be able to breed anthrax in my home, just because I love growing anthrax bacteria?

          Yup.

          How about if I'm just curious to know if I'm able to weaponize anthrax spores into a dry powder, so I just do it?

          Yup.

          On a more everyday note, I guess it's OK for husbands to hold up a gun and threaten to kill their wife and kids if she leaves him, as long as in his mind he knows it's just a big joke.

          Hey, it's left field calling, they want their ball back.

          Or what about if he just shoots and misses her? No harm, no foul, right?

          Queue "firing a gun into a crowd" argument.

          Is it really so hard to understand? Freedom is better than security.

          • Re:WTF (Score:4, Insightful)

            by 15Bit (940730) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @01:33AM (#20764779)
            With freedom comes responsibility. So yes, maybe you should have the right to grow and weaponise anthrax at home, but your neighbour should also have the right be safe from catching anthrax due to your incompetence in handling said material. Implicit within your freedom is a responsibility towards your neighbour (and everyone else). This is why (in theory) you CAN grow anthrax at home, provided you fulfil all the requirements for a license to run a biotech research establishment.
      • until he actually harms someone, he should be free to do whatever the hell he likes.

        Okay. I'll just amass tanks of aerosolized Ebola until I save enough money to buy a plane with enough fuel to dump it on every bit of inhabited land on the planet.

        -:sigma.SB

    • This seems to be pretty typical of many local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Spend lots of money and time on an investigation and then once you realize that your main goal has no valid facts supporting it, find at least something minor in order to put the victim on the defensive to hopefully stave off lawsuits and bad publicity. I would call it saving face and defense by offense.

      Only the best run departments will say they made a mistake and apologize and then try to work with the victim to
  • Like three years old [washingtonpost.com].
  • This is what happens (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Trikenstein (571493)
    when you can't admit that you overreacted.
    They have to move forward in an attempt to stave off lawsuits.
  • by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:17PM (#20763985) Homepage Journal
    This is known as the "Boston" response.
    • "Square the Quad-Laser and you have, behold: The Quad-Glaser."

      Can you hear me Boston? Let me turn it up for you.

    • Hmm, there must be something in the water in Boston that causes the people to go nuts - maybe it is tea leaves...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:19PM (#20763993)
    Remember when we used to make fun of Soviet Russia? Well, in NeoCon America, Soviet Russia makes fun of you!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:25PM (#20764043)
    The tinkerer's spirit was a big part of what made this country great. Now, if you're an electronics or chemistry hobbyist, people think you're a bombmaker; if you build and fly model rockets, you're suspected of trying to produce some kind of missile; if you've got a microscope and some test tubes, you're assumed to be manufacturing anthrax.

    When perfectly innocuous activities make people go totally apeshit with suspicion of their neighbors, the terrorists win.

    What really grinds my gears, though, is how common sense goes right out the fucking window... if this guy had anything to hide, why would he have allowed the authorities to see it? If he was up to no good, he'd have dragged his wife's body into the yard and told them she keeled over tending to the garden or something, and never let the EMTs or whoever in the damn house. Failing that, he'd at least have taken the time to hide the dodgy stuff first before making the call-- "I was taking a nap, and when I woke up, she was dead!"

    No. Instead, they're thinking, "Wow, what a lucky break, this terrorist invited us in to see all his incriminating terrorist supplies! Homeland Security FTW!"

    Fucking morons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by markov_chain (202465)
      Hear, hear. If Feynman pulled the kind of shit today that he did during WW2 in Los Alamos, his ass would be in Guantanamo by now. What happened to the greatness of the WWII generation? Do we need a war to wake people up?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
        ``Do we need a war to wake people up?''

        No, we needed to delude people so we could go to war. "Weapons of mass destruction" "mushroom cloud" etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by langelgjm (860756)

      The tinkerer's spirit was a big part of what made this country great. Now, if you're an electronics or chemistry hobbyist, people think you're a bombmaker; if you build and fly model rockets, you're suspected of trying to produce some kind of missile; if you've got a microscope and some test tubes, you're assumed to be manufacturing anthrax.

      It's not just tinkerers, either. Note that they also confiscated "posters with 'suspicious' Arabic lettering on them." This just made me laugh. If you don't know Arabic

  • A sad indication... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rindeee (530084) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:43PM (#20764141)
    This is indicative of our legal/law enforcement mindset (or what it's becoming) in our society. I am a staunch (and by staunch I mean I loath the current Rep party and must consider myself an independant) conservative. Anyway, some of you might have read a while back that a group of Hash runners (as in the Hash House Harriers running club) were arrested for marking their urban trail with flour. Why? Someone saw the 'white powder' on the ground and of course assumed that it was a terrorist bio-weapon attack of some sort. The HAZMAT guys were sent. The flour was discovered to be just that. The problem is, once the authorities got their teeth in this, they wouldn't let go. Rather than chuckle and go their merry way, they charged the 'offenders' with Breach of the Peace in the First Degree...a Class D felony. This whole story is known as the Hamburger Hash Affair. To contrast this, I have spent the last year and a half living in a very out of the way part of the middle east. Americans (of which I am one) are not liked here of course. One day while on a hash run, myself and the other Hare were laying track (using flour) and the local police observed us in action. They IMMEDIATELY stopped us and began rather intense questioning. Once we explained what we were doing and showed them it was okay by tasting the flour, they let us go and even wished us luck. Somehow it seems like a little role reversal here. We seem (as a society) to have adopted the "bust'em for somethin'" mentality. I don't advocate letting people get away with crimes, but this is getting ridiculous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tietokone-olmi (26595)
      It's like in the Soviet Union. The cops acted, and now they must act as though they weren't acting for nothing. In order to save face, they're willing to drag anyone through any amount of shit, including jail time and absurd fines, just to seem godlike and 100% precise in everything they do. (Which is in itself absurd, since perfection is by definition unattainable.)
  • University professor and artist Steve Kurtz publicizes the history of chemical weapons with performance art pieces. The day his wife died of a heart attack, 911 responders mistook his scientific equipment for bioterrorism supplies.

    My neighbor puts on the same kind of show - you know, another one of those performance art pieces about the history of chemical weapons. It seems like no one attends his performances.... he says it has something to do with the feds scaring people away.

    At first I didn't believe him, but after reading this story, I'm not so sure.

  • Is it really freedom if the authorities can simply switch charges against you when their primary charge doesn't work out? Like this terrorisms converted to mail fraud? Or arresting someone for resisting arrest? Keep in mind, that this is what is purposely being exported to the rest of the world.
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:46PM (#20764161)
    Why would you pay $256 for bacteria? Just buy $1 worth and let each bacterium divide eight times.

    Do it again and you've got $65,536 worth of bacteria which is serious money.
  • by butlerdi (705651) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:48AM (#20766497)

    A series of very unfortunate events bestowed on the FBI a reason to investigate Steve Kurtz. They found material critical of corporate capital and its uses of science, and, where relevant, of U.S. policy. Like most politically motivated people, for Kurtz the point of producing such material was to publish it; the FBI could have found the same material in many places had they been looking, because its legality is a cornerstone of our society. We don't know if CAE was already being monitored, but circumstances put them under the government's scrutiny as could happen to any of us. Given the excuse and the complete authority to investigate every aspect of Kurtz's life, the U.S. Justice Department found a minor, noncriminal irregularity on which, as has become the form, they pinned criminal charges . It is not conspiratorial to say that the charges also serve the right wing agenda, including the maintenance and enforcement of divisions of knowledge and everharsher penalties for intellectual property violations,The prosecution does not have to articulate the goals of the system even to itself; everything is already in place.
    emphasis is mine ...
  • No joking allowed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @07:14AM (#20766755) Homepage
    The insidious thing about counterterror efforts is the slow but steady chilling effect they are having on humor and eccentric self-expression.

    Twenty-five years ago I was talking to a friend about a book I'd been reading about the Trinity atomic bomb tests. Naturally I kept saying "atomic bomb." As we happened to be in an airport at the time, and happened to be approaching security, he started to look increasingly nervous and finally said something. He was right, of course, but what's the effect?

    The effect is that I am now self-conscious about what I talk about in security checkpoints... and airports in general (after all, they're monitoring book titles)... and public places in general. I obviously don't talk seriously about bombs, and by extension I certainly mustn't joke about bombs, and of course the safest thing is not to joke at all.

    I'm not going to wear satirical political T-shirts at public events where Bush is speaking... in fact maybe it's just prudent not to wear satirical T-shirts at all.

    I've been delighted by the emergence of cheap "blinkies," those little battery-powered LED flashers that use strong magnets and attach to clothing, earlobes, etc. Maybe it would be fun to be slightly outrageous and wear some of those just for the heck of it on New Years' Day? No, after the Boston "mooninite" scare and the MIT student who got into trouble the other day, it's probably best not to wear any blinking lights in public.

    Don't do anything to tweak public officials. Since you're not sure what will tweak them, best to just shut up and behave compliantly.

    Conform. Don't stand out. Wear "normal" clothing. Don't act in any way that calls attention to yourself. Don't read books in public with political or religious titles (except the Bible, of course). Play it safe. Don't joke.

    In fact, best not to smile.

    Just like Moscow in the days of the Soviet Union.
  • by lymond01 (314120) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @09:43AM (#20768551)
    This defines why illegal wiretapping and other invasive procedures should be done away with. A perfectly innocent person who is taken in by police on mistaken charges, then gets some petty mail fraud charge thrown at him. All after his wife's death. Unless we can agree upon what is right and wrong and not have people just make things up as they go, stay out of my business, because I'm guessing sneezing is going to be a felony soon enough.

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