News of the Weird:  Using the Patriot Act as a Cover For Drug Busts

Brad A. Illustration

Bureaucrat's Delight: An update of the official index for classifying medical conditions (for research and quality control, and for insurance claims) was released recently, to take effect in October 2013, and replaced the current 18,000 codes with 140,000 much more specific ones. A September Wall Street Journal report noted, for example, 72 different codes for injuries involving birds, depending on the type. "Bitten by turtle" is different from "struck by turtle." Different codes cover injuries in "opera houses," on squash courts, and exactly where in or around a mobile home an injury occurred. "Walked into lamppost, initial encounter" is distinct from "walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter." Codes cover conditions stemming from encounters with extraterrestrials and conditions resulting from "burn due to water skis on fire." "Bizarre personal appearance" has a code, as well as "very low level of personal hygiene."


-A small number of environmental and animal rights activists employ violence and physical threats in attempts to achieve their goals, and similar tactics have recently been used by another group bent on intimidating scientists: sufferers of "chronic fatigue syndrome." London's Observer reported in August that medical researchers who even suggest that the illness might have a "psychological" component have been subject to vitriolic abuse, stalking, disruptions to the scientists' workplaces, and even death threats. In at least one case, the activists succeeded: A psychiatry professor said he had moved his area of research from chronic fatigue to Gulf War syndrome. "That has taken me to Iraq and Afghanistan where ... I feel a lot safer."

-Political Correctness Lives: British authorities threatened Iain Turnbull, 63, with a fine (equivalent of $1,530) in August because he refused to complete the mandatory census earlier this year. Turnbull, from Wales, was protesting that the government, intending to be progressively "inclusive," made available census questionnaires and instructions in such languages as Urdu, Punjabi and Tagalog — but not Welsh (one of Britain's native languages, spoken by a half-million citizens).

-Although the Patriot Act, drafted in the days after 9/11 and quickly enacted into law, was designed expressly to give prosecutors more leeway to challenge suspected terrorism, one of its key provisions has since then been used more than 100 times as often for drug investigations as for terrorism. New York magazine reported in September that "sneak and peek" warrants (enabling searches without notifying the targets) have been obtained only 15 times for terrorism threats but 1,618 times in drug cases.

The Litigious Society

-In 2009 Diane Schuler, with a 0.19 blood-alcohol reading (and marijuana in her system), drove the wrong way for two miles on a New York freeway, finally crashing into another car, killing three people and herself. In July 2011, her widower, Dave Schuler, filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that the collision was the state's fault for not posting signs warning motorists like Diane Schuler that they were going the wrong way.

-Chicago's WLS Radio reported that a man (unnamed in the story) filed a $600,000 lawsuit on Sept. 2 against the Grossinger City Autoplex in the city, claiming that five employees had physically harassed him during business hours over a two-month period in 2009. Included was the man's claim that he had been given multiple "wedgies," one of which was a "hanging" wedgie.