Saturday, June 28, 2014

SCOTUS vs. POTUS... etc.

Reuters reports the following:

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown doesn't rule that the no-fly list itself violates the Constitution, but that it's unconstitutional because it denies due process. Basically, if you're on that list you have no recourse. You don't get to face your accuser. It's all punishment and no proof.

In her ruling [PDF], Brown states, "The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society."  She goes on to write, "Accordingly, on this record the court concludes plaintiffs inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel."

In so ruling, Brown opines on the law's violation of the rights of due process as stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I think the more interesting argument is the one that isn't made, and is rarely, if ever, made in recent years. In this ruling it's simply accepted and assumed that we have a right to travel, something that's not listed in the Constitution. Does such a right exist? Well, think about it for a moment and I think you'll find yourself asking, "how could it not?"

The most forgotten and ignored affirmation of rights lies in the Ninth Amendment:
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
It's a tiny amendment, but one that in all good sense we should be brandishing like a stick. There's a funny thing about "rights". They are absolutely, categorically not granted to you by the Constitution, or by the Court, or Congress, or the President, or by any human authority. Rather, these rights are affirmed and acknowledged by the Constitution. And that acknowledgement of the affirmation of the extra-constitutional source of rights is stated here, in the Ninth Amendment.

The right to travel is common sense. When denied to the extreme, it's synonymous with imprisonment. That's no less true when the jail is spacious. The government argued that while you have a right to travel, you don't have a right to travel by any particular conveyance. So instead of flying to Europe you could take a steamer, or your yacht, or drive on the Arctic ice, or swim, or get Scotty to beam you over. Imagine being told that you're not actually imprisoned because you can always climb the high wall, avoid the dogs, and slip through the razor wire... you're just inconvenienced.

Mostly the government means "travel by boat", but the argument is exactly as stupid as I'm portraying it. In today's world, with today's economics, conveyance by aircraft is the only practical option for international travel. The judge, to her credit, noticed.

In page 61 of the ruling Brown explains her reasoning
Although the Court holds Defendants must provide a new process that satisfies the constitutional requirements for due process, the Court concludes Defendants (and not the Court) must fashion new procedures that provide Plaintiffs with the requisite due process described herein without jeopardizing national security.  
Because due process requires Defendants to provide Plaintiffs (who have all been denied boarding flights and who have submitted DHS TRIP inquiries without success) with notice regarding their status on the No-Fly List and the reasons for placement on that List, it follows that such notice must be reasonably calculated to permit each Plaintiff to submit evidence relevant to the reasons for their respective inclusions on the No-Fly List. In addition, Defendants must include any responsive evidence that Plaintiffs submit in the record to be considered at both the administrative and judicial stages of review. 
In other words, Eric Holder has to come up with procedures that allow individuals to be aware of the their no-fly status and the reasons for it, and to allow them to appeal. His deadline for presenting these new procedures is July 14th, 2014.

Supreme Court Smackdown.

In related news, this week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) had to whack the Administrative Branch on a number of items regarding the abuse of administrative power:

Administrative Overreach
On MONDAY the SCOTUS ruled [PDF] that agencies do not have the freedom to "tailor" laws and regulations in ways not authorized by Congress. In this case it's the EPA's definition of "pollution" as being "any airborne substance", which taken literally could include clouds.
“when an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate a significant portion of the American economy. We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance.”
It remains to be seen if the SCOTUS will remember this decision when someone pulls Obama's unilateral changes to Obamacare back into court. But I'm close to 100% certain that the plaintiffs will, and will argue it forcefully.


Warrantless Searches
On WEDNESDAY the SCOTUS ruled [PDF] that police need a warrant to search a cell phone. This is such an obvious decision based in the unambiguous clear language of the Fourth Amendment that it's astoundingly perplexing that it got as far as the Supreme Court.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
If you see an exemption for cell phones there, you probably also see pink elephants, ghosts, and leprechauns.


Illegal Recess Appointments
On THURSDAY, the SCOTUS unanimously struck down three of Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board [PDF]. Obama had made what he called "recess appointments". The Court ruled that a three-day break doesn't put the Congress "in recess". And rightly so, otherwise "King Potus" would be issuing decrees every weekend.


And finally, there was this rebuke of the Massachusetts legislature:

First Amendment Violations:
Also on THURSDAY, the SCOTUS struck down [PDF] a Massachusetts law that had banned anti-abortion protesters from entering a 35-foot "buffer zoner" around abortion clinics. This doesn't address a previously-enacted "floating" buffer zone that keeps protesters 6 feet away from anyone who is within 18 feet of a clinic. This last bit is important to note, in that the Boston Globe reports the recollections of Martha Walz — president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusett as follows:
Before, protesters could stand in the clinic doorway, shoulder to shoulder, forcing people to squeeze through. Walz recalled a visit when a protester screamed at her from just inches away. “It was, to say the least, frightening,” Walz said. “That is what is of such concern to us. The court is essentially saying that kind of behavior may resume.”
What it really means is that Martha Waltz has no idea what the word "essentially" means, because in no way is that what the Court is saying. Read the ruling yourself. I linked the PDF above.

The Massachusetts law was passed in response to the fatal shootings of two staff members at abortion clinics in Brookline in 1994. This was a sad event. However, murder is already illegal... unless you're an abortionist... and the Massachusetts law does absolutely nothing to prevent a repeat of the event. A person who is willing to commit murder is not going to be held magically at bay by an imaginary impenetrable force-field erected by public sentiment. Even if he were, how long do you think it would take a bullet to traverse the 35-foot distance? The law is plainly ineffective for its stated purpose.

What the law effectively does is the source of the plaintiff's complaint. It prevents peaceful, law-abiding people from having one-on-one conversations with people about alternatives that don't include killing a baby.

The plaintiffs successfully argued their case on First Amendment grounds. As characterized by lead counsel Mark Rienzi:
"Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks. That includes peaceful pro-lifers like Eleanor McCullen, who just wants to offer information and help to women who would like it. The Supreme Court has affirmed a critical freedom that has been an essential part of American life since the nation's founding."
The Court agreed, holding that the law unduly restricted access to sidewalks and public places that have traditionally been open for speech activities and that the Court has accordingly labeled “traditional public fora", and that the government’s ability to regulate speech in such locations is “very limited.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

About that rant...

I shared a link to a post on on Facebook recently. The title: Brigitte Gabriel gives FANTASTIC answer to Muslim woman claiming all Muslims are portrayed badly.

The headline editor should be spanked. Or severely chastised. Or frowned at. Or whatever it is you do to lousy headline editors. Yes, the woman claims that all Muslims are portrayed as "bad". But that's not the main thrust of her question. She wants to know how we can fight an ideological war with weapons. First, here's the question
Salaam-Alaikum. Peace to you all. My name is Saba Ahmed. I am a law student at American University. I am here to ask you a simple question. I know that we portray Islam and all Muslims as bad. But there is 1.8 billion Muslim followers of Islam. We have 8 million plus Muslim Americans in this country, and I don't see them represented here. But my question is how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about, it's an ideology. How can you ever win this thing if you don't address it ideologically?
And here's the question followed by answers from the panel:

A friend takes exception to the responses, particularly that given by Bridgitte Gabriel. I won't reproduce the entire post (it's long, and you'll get the gist of it here), But I do want to address these points:
  • That the panel bullies the woman in response to a reasonable question.
  • That the response was "not respectful" and "completely illogical"
  • That the woman was "blamed" for Muslims not speaking out. 
  • That her question about ideology wasn't answered.
He concludes that "This is one of the most illogical rants I've seen lately. Deplorable in my opinion."

I linked to the long version of the video on purpose. Prior to the Gabriel's response, on which we'll focus, there was a lengthy response by Frank Gaffney. I'll leave it to you to decide whether the woman's question was received respectfully. I also assume below that you've watched the whole thing.

My thoughts:

The panel is correct. We are not at war with Islam. If we were, then most obviously we would not be selective in choosing our targets in the Middle East. Gabriel thanked Ahmed for good reason. It gave her an outlet for some important points that could only be delivered in a particular way, as I'll explain.

A war is not fought either with weapons or with ideology. Both are necessary. But there is a clear difference between knowing an ideology and agreeing with it. For example, Nazism most certainly represented an ideology. The Nazis knew full well that their ideology differed from their neighbors', and how. They didn't give a rat's ass. Nothing came of appeasement. Nothing came of diplomacy. The ideological front was lost when Hitler came to power, and the world went on to successfully fight an ideology with weapons. And that's how it's done. That, by the way, fully answers the woman's literal question. You win an ideological war with weapons by demonstrating forcefully and with united purpose that holding the ideology will get you killed. And you keep the peace after the war by demonstrating that continuing to hold the ideology will get you imprisoned. That's how it has been done in the past, and it does factually work.

That doesn't mean we could win such a war against this ideology in this region of the world today. In fact, I believe we could not.

Now for context, this is a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event about Benghazi. To ask the question that she did she had to ignore the proceedings to that point. And she did it in such a way as to divert the focus of her question away from the focus of the proceedings. They do not portray "Islam and all Muslims as bad", but that's her intro, directly quoted. The juxtaposition of an extended depiction of peaceful Islam in general with the word "ideology" leads one to initially associate "the ideology" with "Islam". That is misleading, and a law student should know this. Her later use of the term "jihadist" is softened by an opening that focuses on Muslims in general. (For the record, I don't believe she was intentionally misleading. But in her zeal to pre-emptively defend herself she missed the point. The panel discussion was NOT focused on Muslims in general, but on violent radical jihadists.

They do not ignore ideology... These guys talk ideology in their sleep. You may indeed fight an ideology with and without weapons, but you don't get to count yourself as fighting the ideology by pretending that the battle against it is instead a completely different battle... against you. Example:
Imagine if you would a white guy standing up in front of a panel that is denouncing the KKK and who takes pains to point out that most white guys aren't in the KKK. The appropriate response would be exactly what this woman got for her similar observations. "This isn't about 'white guys'... it's about the KKK. And we're not going to ignore the KKK because you as a white guy feel put out by the guilt by association. And by the way, Skippy, if you're so damned kumbaya then why aren't you and all those friends you talk about denouncing the KKK along with us?" 
Ahmed got exactly what a white man would have gotten in similar circumstances, by a Lebanese woman who who pointedly does not have to "check her privilege" at the door. Gabriel's response cannot be appreciated in a vaccuum, but should be taken in a broader context, as expressed by someone who grew up in war-torn Lebanon; as well as by someone who has heard the same question over and over again in multiple venues. Often in these venues the end result is to shift the discussion into the defensive... and if you watched the longer clip you'd have seen exactly that happening before Gabriel's response.

Regarding the "illogic" you perceive, there are a number of declamatory methods of getting a point across, one of which is to use some variation of "put your money where your mouth is". In this particular case it's to communicate quite bluntly that the 75% of Muslims who are peaceful need to become the vocal, not silent, majority. If they were motivated to do this of their own accord, the point would not need to be made. "Loving peace" alone isn't terribly effective. Sitting around doing nothing hasn't worked either, and if this point is to be made, it must be made directly to that silent majority. This Muslim woman is the face of that audience. For better or worse she put herself in the right place and the right time to stand as proxy for millions of peaceful Muslims.

And you can't effectively communicate your profound disappointment in the inaction of that majority by pretending to respect their right to sit idly by. Rather, they must feel your displeasure. That message was not addressed to her alone; but to the larger audience that received it. It is an emotional message. Intentionally so. And in that, you may miss the genius of the response. She answered "how can we fight an ideological war" with a demonstration. The answer itself is an ideological salvo.
You say you are peaceful. Prove it. Stand up for peace. Do not leave it for others to do alone. Do not say "what are YOU doing?" without being able to answer the same question for yourself. Do not distract attention away from the problem, from the terrorists. Do not expect to walk out of here with both your hypocrisy and your dignity intact. Make a choice. Be embarrassed today, so tomorrow when you're asked this question, you have an answer. 
Being challenged with the truth, however blunt it may be, is not bullying. Being of minority opinion in a room may be embarrassing and even intimidating, but it does not equate with being bullied. The initial response, from Frank Gaffney, was extremely respectful.

If you didn't stick around for the follow-up question, you go back and view it at timestamp 8:26.

Was that "illogical", "disrespectful", "deplorable" "rant" effective? When asked by the moderator, "Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is," Ahmed's response was,
"I guess that's me right now"
One down. 1.8 billion to go.

Monday, June 09, 2014

10 Banned Foods

This is a response to an open invitation to fact-check an infographic. As such, it's mostly addressed to that person. However, I should state for the record that he knows more about chemistry than I ever care to (my knowledge is strictly high-school level, or at least what should be high school level), so the portions where I either "explain" a chemical process or link to an explanation are not for his benefit, but for the benefit of anyone who's stumbled upon this and chosen to read along.

The infographic is from Dr. Joseph Mercola, of whom I'll have more to say at the end.

(Apparently the theme here is that if a food is banned anywhere in the world for any reason, Americans should stop eating it, which I note without judgement)

Now before I start, I'll say for the record that I'm not an M.D., nor am I a medical professional of any sort. What I present here are logical responses to the infographic. They are not medical opinions, they're just opinions. They are not medical advice. Also, they're completely dependent upon the sources from which I drew them. The point here is to provide other points of view so that you don't feel pressured into blindly accepting the spurious advice of one person with the title of "doctor". One doctor's opinion is the start of a conversation, not the end. Again, I'll have more to say at the end.

In the following, unless otherwise obvious from context, "they" refers to Dr. Mercola and/or whoever in his organization researched and composed the infographic.

That said, here are my comments about the 10 foods he lists:

1. Salmon

I didn't bother to check facts on this one, but took them as given because I've seen them before. However, facts without logic mean nothing. Please note:

  • Wild-caught salmon doesn't begin to satisfy the demands of the who have to eat something
  • The antibiotics fed to farmed salmon are to counter the higher risks noted. 
  • Farming salmon reduces the risk of over-harvesting and endangering the species. 

Obviously, due to the risks of commercial over-fishing (which is why you know what tilapia is and see far less tuna), limits must be set on the harvesting of wild salmon. This is all well and good if you want to pay exhorbitant prices for wild salmon or hop in your private plane to fly yourself to Alaska with your hip-waders and rod, but doesn't do much if you're a mom trying to feed your kids some fish.

Remember logic: if A is "better for you" than B, that does NOT equal "B is bad for you". It just means that A is better.

2. Genetically engineered papaya

ALL of the risks noted are for "GE foods", and not a single one is for papaya specifically. While this indicates an nonspecific fear of GMO foods in general, it does not indicate any particular health problem with this variety of papaya. Indeed, lists a number of "problems" with the strain, all of which are economic, due to the closing of markets. None of the problems listed are health-related. One thing in particular is known, though... they have a lower incidence of ringspot virus, which nearly wiped out papaya in Hawai'i, the only place where it's commercially grown in the United States. Feel free to interpret this limited range as a business opportunity.

The GMO variety is presumed to be of risk because their ringspot immunity is granted to them by a gene that produces papaya ringspot virus protein, which is designated a "potential allergen" because it is chemically similar to a known allergen.

3. Ractopamine-tainted meat. 

There is only one study on the effects of ractopamine on humans (from 2012), and it examined only six men. It was severely limited for ethical reasons, only to verify that the effects on humans were similar to those already recorded for primates.

The infographic says that it's banned in "160 countries across Europe". There aren't 160 countries in Europe. There are about 50 if you list Russia (mostly Asian) and the Vatican, 28 of which are in the European Union. OK, so they aren't really careful with language.

There are 196 countries in the entire world  Twenty-seven other countries have declared ractopamine to be safe, leaving 159. Or 158 if you're China. OK, so somebody's math is off somewhere.

Apparently what has happened here is that someone took the approximate number of countries in the world, subtracted the number that have specifically declared ractopamine to be safe, and decided that it must be banned in the the rest without considering the possibility that a large percentage of them have other things to worry about and haven't expressed an opinion one way or the other. But it may very well be something close to that number. Or not. The problem is that I haven't been able to find a complete list of them anywhere... just the iffy math.

The word "poisoned" is in scare quotes here as well. Why? Because it's not defined. This number isn't from a medical source, it's from the Sichuan Pork Trade Chamber of Commerce in China [PDF]

4. Flame Retardant in drinks.

Water is also a flame retardant. So is baking soda. The use of the term here is 100% purely for scare value... it is otherwise meaningless.

The reason brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is in these drinks is as an emulsifier. Citrus drinks separate when left to sit, and this keeps them mixed up.

They state that BVO was originally patented as a flame retardant. The patent for BVO as a flame retardant in polyurethane foam was filed Nov 20, 1997. Its use as an emulsifier in soft drinks began in 1931. Perhaps there's an earlier patent that I can't find, but even so it wouldn't mean anything. I've made papier-mache pinatas using flour as paste. I wouldn't on that basis shout that bread should be banned because it's made of glue.

The bigger question, though, is about the health effects of BVO. As with everything, including water, this comes down to dosage. The only documented cases of bromism I saw involving human beings had the patients consuming FOUR LITERS OR MORE of citrus-flavored soda PER DAY. One was treated with hemodialysis and recovered, though it was not determined whether that specific ingredient was at fault. Another just quit drinking the sodas and recovered.

If you're ingesting that much of any flavor of anything, STOP IT. It's not the substance at fault, it's you.

5. Processed foods with artificial food colors and dyes

I always am skeptical when I see "Research has linked" in association with any claim about anything. All it usually means is "someone suspects". Otherwise, they'd be saying "[this study] has established that [this substance] causes [this disorder]."

I especially am leery here. Dyes can vary greatly in their chemical compositions, so lumping them together and saying "dyes cause all this stuff" is logically unsound, and probably factually so. In any case, some "artificial" dyes are "nature identical"... chemically indistinguishable from the natural dyes they replace. So how is it reasonable to presume that they are "bad" when the identical molecule from a different source is not? An example: Blue #2 is just indigo dye. It's exactly the "blue" of "blue jeans". Whether it's extracted from a plant, or from snails, or synthesized, it's still indigo. In 3,000 years nobody's complained about it, health-wise... so why is Dr. Mercola listing it? No reason really, he just lists the four most popular dyes.

As for the others, I know jack about them except that they're "azo dyes", and that Red 40 replaced Red 2 and Red 3 because Red 40 was deemed safer. I'm just going to link to the Wikipedia article for Red 40 since it describes the two yellows as well (Sunset Yellow and Tartrazine)

Other than link to these specific dyes I can't address the claim because it's too broad. Yes, they do list four specific dyes, but as we've seen, that list is only drawn from frequency of use.

As an aside, I hate the common usage of the word "processed". It means anything, and therefore nothing. The simple act of butchering is "processing". In fact, Dr. Mercola's website rails against "deli meat". I don't know what deli he frequents, but if it's a real one, it's kosher, and the products are a damned site more natural than any of the pills and supplements he hawks on his website. It's just a further example of sloppy language.

6. Arsenic-laced chicken.

As always, dosage. Though the infographic states the arsenic-based drugs "make animals grow quicker and make the meat appear pinker and fresher," that appears to be inaccurate by implication. These drugs were used to kill off infections, ward off disease, and produce a healthier animal. Get that? The feed was given in such doses as to produce a healthier chicken, not in doses that kill it off. That's why they grew quicker and had better meat.

Furthermore, you are much larger than a chicken. A dose that keeps a chicken healthy isn't likely to make you sick. However, that's the drug, and not necessarily the arsenic.

As you know, chemistry is tricky... just because something starts out as safe, that doesn't mean it stays that way. Likewise, as we'll see with the next substance, just because something starts out as dangerous, it doesn't necessarily stay that way, either. Atoms are lost and gained. Molecules are split and recombined. New molecules are formed. (My questioner knows all of this intimately. I'm stating that for the rest of you.) In this case, there's a concern about raised levels of inorganic arsenic found in rice, which is often fertilized with poultry droppings.

Last year the FDA withdrew approval for three of the four arsenic-based drugs that exist, so this criticism is largely obsolete. The last drug, Nitarsone, is the only known treatment for histomoniasis, a disease fatal to turkeys. Nitarsone is an organic drug. (Don't get excited; that just means it contains carbon... but where arsenic's concerned, that's important).

On the infographic the risks listed are those of eating arsenic itself, not chicken.

7. Bread with potassium bromate.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information relates that when potassium bromate (KBrO3) is fed directly to rats (orally), it is a carcinogen, and also causes kidney problems in humans, also when fed directly and orally.

In bread it is used as an oxidizing agent to form bonds in the gluten. In doing so it gives up its oxygen and becomes potassium bromide. Unless you're seriously overdosing, this is harmless. The alternative to using the oxidizing agent is to age the flour (in open air, not sealed)... then knead the fool out of the dough then let it rest and knead it again so that the oxygen is taken from the atmosphere. This is time-consuming, and because it's often skipped at home that's why you'll find that some commercial breads are softer than your best attempts. It's not your ingredients, it's your process. You've got to let the dough rest.

Nevertheless, it's possible that if it's not properly used in the baking of bread that some potassium bromate may be left behind, and if you ate large quantities of poorly prepared bread you may develop problems. Fortunately the bread aisle is full of unbromated alternatives.

8. Olestra/Olean

I had to laugh. One of the risks given is that rats that were fed the stuff gained weight. Usually that's a "risk" attributed to "food". Nevertheless, this is the stuff that also advertises its own side effects, such as "leaky bowels" and "oily anal leakage".

Personally, I prefer baked chips and fries to those that have been oil-fried; and while this is in some packaged foods I don't know of any fast-food restaurants that use it (nor would they continue to after the word got out).

It's probably worth noting why this stuff was invented in the first place. It's a fat substitute that got traction only because fat's gotten a bad rap from nutrition fear-mongers. Be careful what you reflexively trash... the alternative is almost always worse.

9. Preservatives BHA and BHT

Let's take them separately, just to be different. Yes, I know, they say that these are "toxic" preservatives, but they also have been remarkably fact-challenged already.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a preservative. For instance, they say BHA "is known to cause cancer in rats". Yes. In abnormally high doses that is true. In hamsters, too. But not in mice... not even a little bit. In mice it seems to retard other carcinogens. And while NIH "reasonably anticipates" that it could be a human carcinogen, no one has found a link at usual levels of intake.
"Comparison of the present results to a similar study using BHT clearly indicates that BHA at equivalent dietary doses is considerably less toxic than BHT"
So let's look at BHT.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is an anti-oxidant. And the same people who decry the scary sounding "chemical" go out of their way to find other anti-oxidants that are claimed to retard aging. Some studies say it increases cancer risk, others say it decreases the risk, the usual upshot of which is that it might not actually affect it one way or the other. In point of fact, you can buy BHT in health-food stores. $12.95 for a big bottle full of capsules of the stuff from Vitamin Research Products. Folks gotta make up their minds. It's terrible when "Big-Pharma" or "Big-Agra" or "" sells it, but just peachy when Big-Vita sells it.

10. Milk and dairy products laced with rBGH

That would be the "recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone" you hear about. Once again they need to fact-check, and in this case I'm going to link you to's page on the subject. I'm using this as a source because if you're going to claim a thing causes cancer, you should be paying attention to what the people who specialize in cancer actually say.

Here are a couple of choice quotes:
"Bovine growth hormone levels are not significantly higher in milk from rBGH-treated cows. On top of this, BGH is not active in humans, so even if it were absorbed from drinking milk, it wouldn't be expected to cause health effects."
"Of greater concern is the fact that milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that normally helps some types of cells to grow. Several studies have found that IGF-1 levels at the high end of the normal range may influence the development of certain tumors."
Just so we're clear on this... the issue isn't about products "laced with rBGH", it's about the higher levels of IGF-1 in cows treated with rBGH. Now, you might thing this is picking nits, but not when medicine is involved. Getting it wrong leads people to ban the wrong damned thing. (and yes, I may have it wrong, too... that's why you get other opinions).

The infographic mentions that cows treated with rBGH have higher incidents of mastitis (udder infections), but rightly notes they are also given more antibiotics. It's not the rBGH that questions, but the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"Some studies have shown that adults who drink milk have about 10% higher levels of IGF-1 in their blood than those who drink little or no milk. But this same finding has also been reported in people who drink soymilk. This suggests that the increase in IGF-1 may not be specific to cow's milk, and may be caused by protein, minerals, or some other factors in milk unrelated to rBGH. There have been no direct comparisons of IGF-1 levels in people who drink ordinary cow's milk vs. milk stimulated by rBGH.
"At this time, it is not clear that drinking milk, produced with or without rBGH treatment, increases blood IGF-1 levels into a range that might be of concern regarding cancer risk or other health effects."
So while IGF-1 can contribute to cancer, this is present in comparable levels in all milk-drinkers, even when rBGH hasn't been administered to the cows, and even when there are no cows at all, as in soy milk. That would sound like cause for advice to avoid milk in general were it not for the matter of dosage and daily allowances. Read the site for more info.

Can I Trust The Source?

I'm sure he has a selection of very
flattering pics on his own site

Now, about who they are. As noted, they are, or more specifically Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has hollowed out quite a lucrative niche in the health advice industry.

Apparently Dr. Oz likes him, though doesn't. In fact, the site gives nine reasons to ignore Mercola.

Steven Novella M.D., professor of neurology at Yale, vilifies Mercola on the NeuroLogica Blog for Mercola's dangerous stance on vaccines. Being wrong on vaccines doesn't necessarily mean Mercola's wrong on nutrition, but he has established a pretty firm track-record for fear-mongering. reports that the FDA has ordered Mercola to stop illegal claims. Again, that doesn't mean that these claims are illegal. It just establishes that he's willing to make illegal claims and has a track record of doing so. published an article on Mercola entitled "15 Years of Promoting Quackery".

Dr. Mercola is entry #274 in The Encyclopedia of American Loons.I find this entry to be entirely on-point.

Given Mercola's track record, anything he says is at best questionable; by which I mean you should question it and get a second opinion. That said, my opinion is that your second opinion should be your primary opinion, so get a third. Of course, Mercola might respond that of course the entire medical and scientific establishment are against him, because everyone but him is in the pocket of Big-something. That would be putting words in his mouth, so I won't suggest it.

Friday, June 06, 2014

LDS grapples with dating service in a "Mormon Match"

Anthony Zurcher at BBC news reports the following:

You may have thought that there's such a thing as the "Mormon Church", but really there isn't. It's officially the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "LDS" for short; and its members are latter-day saints. But because of their religious text entitled the Book of Mormon the common appellation is "Mormon Church", and the members are informally known as "Mormons". In fact, they're almost exclusively known as "Mormons" outside of their own church.

It seems that the LDS objected when a dating website called "Mormon Match" tried to trademark the name "Mormon Match". The LDS argues that it holds ownership of a family of trademarks, each of which includes the word "Mormon", and to allow a commercial venture to use it in a trademark would dilute the non-identical trademarks owned by the LDS and damage the Church.

The BBC story is in error when it claims that the LDS "has a trademark on the word". They link to the trademark document for "", which is distinct from "Mormon". According to the LDS, they did try to get a trademark on the word "Mormon", but they were denied by the USPTO, as "Mormon" is a generic word. They gave up trying in 2007. According to the Church, Mormon Match filed for trademark, the Church filed an official objection, and it is Mormon Match that sued the Church. So this is a bit more subtle than the BBC story implies, and even their title is inaccurate.

Now, the LDS objects to the trademark of "Mormon Match" despite the fact that the website in question exists to match Mormons with like-minded individuals (aka other Mormons), and it's not at all clear how they'd do that if not allowed to simply describe their services. This is also despite the fact that the website contains on its landing page the following disclaimer:


You might think that they could use another word, like "Latter-day Saints", but that's actually the official title, so if anything that would be worse. Or perhaps they could come up with some completely new word to describe the membership, but that wouldn't be informative, and could quickly become pejorative. This might not be appreciated by the members. It would be like naming your Italian dating service, "Wop Swap 'n' Shop".

By contrast, mainstream Christians of all stripes would like Christians to meet other Christians, and no one would think twice about describing their dating service as being "for Christians". Yet the LDS have a problem with it. Very odd.

To be fair, here is the LDS' position as stated by church spokesman Eric Hawkins:
"We have made repeated attempts to resolve the issue without litigation, as we have in many comparable disputes over the years, including similar trademark applications. The objection of the church is that a for-profit business is trying to deceptively capitalize on the church’s name and image to promote a product that has no affiliation with the church. By attempting to trademark the name, the group seeks to claim exclusive rights to use a term that is clearly associated with the church."
I technically have no horse in this race, not being Mormon, nor having stock in the website. But I do like the English language, and I like being able to use it without being arbitrarily sued. And I do love little logical conundrums, so I find myself wondering how I'd argue the case.

I think I'd do it like this:

But first... I had a very clever case plotted out as to why the LDS can't trademark "Mormon". That was done after having read the BBC article, and before I found out the USPTO had already denied that trademark. So all of that cleverness is lost to the bit bucket. There remains this boring little list of obviousness.  *sigh* At least I got to clear up the BBC's misinformation.
  1. The use of the term on the "Mormon Match" website poses no problem of confusion with the LDS. Not only are their products different, they clearly label themselves as not being affiliated or endorsed by the LDS so as to remove remaining doubt, should any exist. The mere use of the word "Mormon" does not provide adequate grounds for objection, as their activities occupy different domains. For example, the term "Apple" is simultaneously trademarked by a computer company, a record label, a rubber products company, a publisher, and numerous other companies.
  2. This aside, there exists no other term that adequately describes a Mormon, or Latter-Day Saint, other than those over which the Church claims trademark. This lack of alternatives reduces the term "Mormon" to a common word in the language. Its use by Mormon Match is purely descriptive and without alternative. The use of this common word in LDS trademarks therefore poses inadequate grounds for objection. It is, after all, a common word; the generic term for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for whom the website's services are specifically intended.
  3. This aside, the Church's object that Mormon Match is attempting to "deceptively capitalize on the church’s name and image to promote a product that has no affiliation with the church" holds no water. On the contrary, Mormon Match is attempting to blatantly and openly market to church members a service that has no affiliation with the Church. They make no secret about the fact that they are not affiliated with the Church nor do they hide that their service is for Mormons. And the fact that this is "a product that has no affiliation with the church" cuts straight to the issue of "domain", as stated in point #1, so we may take this clause as a concession of that point. There is no barrier of law, ethics, or morals to prevent Mormon Match from offering their service to Mormons. So what else would you call them?
  4. This aside, the Church's objection to the use of the word "Mormon" in someone else's trademark amounts to a de facto claim on the word "Mormon" itself, which is exactly what has already been denied by the USPTO. As the USPTO has already rejected that claim, so should the objection to the use of the word by Mormon Match be rejected. It is equivalent to the word "Chicken" or "Steak" being claimed as exclusive trademarks by competing restaurants, and is contrary to Trademark law.
In short, Mormon Match operates in a distinct domain, describing itself using a common word that is appropriately and properly applied without malice, deception, or confusion, and should be allowed the trademark to trademark their name without further objection.


This leaves the question of why Mormon Match would have sued the LDS and refused an out-of-court settlement. A clue to that lies in the Church's own statement:
"We have made repeated attempts to resolve the issue without litigation, as we have in many comparable disputes over the years, including similar trademark applications..."
They do this a lot. To a lot of people who can't afford to defend themselves. If their logic fails here, then it fails for others.

Sometimes it's not just your business interests that are at stake. Sometimes it's the principle. As the Electonic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry said in a statement. "Trademarks are supposed to be used to protect from unfair competition, not to stifle a small business or to control language." And as stated in the EFF's amicus brief:
"By granting Eller’s motion now, this Court will help ensure not only that Eller’s business can survive, but also that other similarly situated persons, from entrepreneurs to authors, filmmakers, cartoonists, songwriters, and other creators will not feel pressured or succumb to meritless infringement claims."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dear Symantec...

Symantec have corrected the problem. Scroll to the bottom, please.

Today I received an email thanking me for my interest in a product for which I have expressed no interest whatsoever. Nevertheless, Symantec, you thoughtfully stepped in, made an assumption that I desperately need and/or want your advice, and sent me your spam offer anyway.

Fine. I know what to do... I search the fine print at the bottom of the email for the required "Unsubscribe" link. Scrubbing my mouse around (since there were no highlighted links) I find a "Communications Preferences" link and correctly surmise that this is where I should go.I am greeted with a page with the headline "Unsubscribe" in which I can type my email address.

Now, most companies have a one-click unsubscribe feature, to minimize the annoyance they visit upon potential customers. I value that, for while I don't want their regular emails, chances are that I've either bought something from them in the past, or will consider them and their polite deference when looking for future products.

Likewise, my dear Symantec, I will remember that you obfuscated your link by calling it something other than Unsubscribe, and further obfuscated it by using style settings that hide links as plain text. And I will remember the page to which you sent me, reproduced here, which forces me to give you permission to send me more spam along with my request to stop the spam.


To which I have just this to say...

Disdainfully yours,

Not a customer.


This morning I received another email, same as the first, with these differences:

The message at the bottom of the email has changed. It no longer obfuscates the unsubscribe link, and the wording has changed to make it clear that this is how you unsubscribe.

The Unsubscribe page no longer states that you have to give them permission to subscribe you in order to unsubscribe.