Monday, October 5, 2009

Twitter Lands G20 Protestor in Jail, Earns Him a Raid on His Home

One of the topics de jour is a raid that occurred in Queens over the weekend involving the home of a G20 protester. The NYT reports the Elliot and Elena Madison's home was raided following his arrest Sept 24th in Pittsburgh. He and an associate were discovered to be monitoring police and EMS communications and disseminating the information on their movements to protesters. They were arrested (on what sound like shaky grounds), posted bail, and were released. Then last Saturday, the FBI descended on the Madisons' home and spent 16 hours tossing it.

What did they discover? Some goggles and gas masks, dark clothing (ooh, sinister!), leftist literature and posters, and a picture of Vladamir Lenin.

According to the New York Post, they found the following:
Assistant US Attorney Andrew Goldsmith argued that some of the items raised alarm, including a pound of liquid mercury in the house, alongside "books about poisons" and a microscope.

The feds also found metal triangles that are used to puncture tires and two boxes of ammunition.

All of this information is presented in such a way as to make Madison appear menacing. Liquid mercury! Poison! Lenin! Bulletts! OMFG a terrorist!!!!one11!

But take a moment to think about the contents of your house, and how someone might portray them in order to cast you in a negative light. In mine, they might find the following "damning" evidence:

  • -4 firearms
  • -ammunition
  • 2 hunting knives that they could probably get away with calling "daggers" before the press.
  • various chemicals, in the form of cleaning supplies, that they could contend could be used to make home-made explosives or chemical weapons. And books on chemistry
  • winter hats that could be described as "masks"
  • flasks and test tubes (from an old chemistry set, used for various craftsy-type stuff)
  • small, sharp metal tools for everything from cleaning guns to tying trout flies to fixing watches, which could probably be spun as tire-puncturing tools or even bomb-making tools.
  • a copy of The Communist Manifesto (also Mein Kampf, the Qu'ran, several Bibles, the Necronomicon, the Book of Mormon, and whatever the Hari Krishnas hand out at the airport: I forget the title)
  • a book on farming techniques that could be spun as a "survivalist guide"
  • a small amount of liquid mercury, gleaned from a couple of broken thermometers when I was in high school and kept as a toy.
And this is just off of the top of my head (I shudder to think what they could do with an examination of my computers: I think I had a soft copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook at one time. I'll bet forensic examiners could restore it).

Looking at what they found at Madison's home, it all looks pretty tame. Gas masks and goggles? Considering the glee with which police toss tear gas around when they encounter left-wing protesters, that doesn't surprise me at all. "Metal triangles"? They're obviously implying that these are caltrops, but who knows: they could be bits of sheet metal from a construction project (edit: they apparently were, indeed, caltrops. But those still aren't illegal to posess). A microscope? Puhleeze. The mercury could just be for amusement, as is my own; "books on poisons" is so vague as to be meaningless (they could say that of my Audubon Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms), and I think you'd find ammunition in a great many homes across this country.

Finally, a bit of a disclosure: I know Elliot Madison. He was my room-mate years ago, and he's about as menacing as Elmo from Sesame Street. At worst, he's guilty of having really dorky stuff in his house (lord knows he did back then). But the authorities and the sensationalist media want a scary story, so they present the data in such a way as to villianize an essentially harmless man.

Edit: Madison and his lawyer were interviewed for Democracy Now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Look Up. Really. Astronomy is Wonderful.

Been away for a while. I'm thinking I need to tone it down a bit and get a damn hobby.

Just bought this sparkly new toy. I'm going up north to spend some time enjoying the fall colors, and will hopefully put it to use.

I love Autumn. The smells, the crisp air, the leaves crunching underfoot... I think this time is the main reason I could never move down south. I like winter, but I could never live without autumn.

and yes, I know that autumn doesn't necessarily have anything to do with astronomy: it's just that both topics tend to be on my mind this time of year.