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News Quirks 

Published September 1, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Police were able to capture a woman suspected of robbing two banks in Butte County, Calif., after she locked herself out of her getaway car. Witnesses said Laura Jane Murray, 48, tried to borrow a tire iron to smash the window, but when Davis police showed up, she began using her hand to try to smash the window. (Chico Enterprise-Record)

Two uniformed police officers were ordering at the register at a Starbucks in New Westminster, British Columbia, when a man cut in front of them, threw a drink at the employee and demanded cash. The officers “looked at each other in astonishment,” Sgt. Bruce Carrie said, and promptly arrested the 43-year-old suspect. (CTV British Columbia)

Fools for Clients

Two California men accused of defrauding homeowners by promising to eliminate their mortgage debts for a fee decided to act as their own lawyers. They were promptly convicted but appealed, arguing that their courtroom behavior proved they were incompetent to represent themselves. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco noted that Kurt F. Johnson and Dale Heineman filed “meaningless and nonsensical documents” during the trial, insisted on wearing prison clothing in front of the jury and delivered “off-the-wall comments,” such as Johnson’s statement to jurors to “enter a guilty plea for us.” The court voted 3-0 to deny the appeal. “The record clearly shows that the defendants are fools,” Judge Barry Silverman said, “but that is not the same as being incompetent.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

First-Amendment Follies

A Las Vegas company hopes to do what newspapers can’t: monetize their news content. Launched in March, Righthaven buys out the copyrights to newspaper content, and then sues blogs and websites that repost articles without permission. CEO Steve Gibson said Righthaven takes advantage of harsh penalties of the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. In just four months, Righthaven filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve reposted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, its first client. Gibson said he’s just getting started, insisting there are “millions, if not billions, of infringements out there.” (Wired)

Stating the Obvious

A federal judge ruled that Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater doesn’t offer the health benefits its label promises because it’s nothing more than a sugary snack food disguised as a sports drink and violates Federal Drug Administration regulations. When Judge John Gleeson pointed out that Vitaminwater’s marketing claims were false and misleading, the company insisted the statements were “only puffery” and not intended to be taken as fact. The ruling rejected Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss a class-action suit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, meaning the case can proceed to trial. (The Consumerist)

Fear of Walking

Hoping to help the growing number of pedestrians who stumble into stationary and moving objects while texting on their cellphones, technology companies have set about creating applications that do everything from making a smartphone screen transparent to transforming speech into text. “I don’t think we’re going to eliminate people from walking into things outright,” said Travis Bogard, executive director of a San Francisco company that makes Bluetooth earpieces, “but what we’re trying to do is eliminate the friction point — and give the user a little mental bandwidth.” (Associated Press)

Hybrid vehicles are twice as likely as cars with conventional engines to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The gas-electric autos operate too quietly to signal their presence to inattentive pedestrians and the blind, who depend on sound cues, prompting calls to add artificial noises as warnings. Les Blomberg, founder of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, suggested that a better solution would be to reduce noises from loud trucks, buses and motorcycles so pedestrians could distinguish individual vehicles in traffic. (Associated Press)

Sideways, East Coast Version

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has begun testing vending machines that sell wine in supermarkets. Stocking several varieties at optimal temperatures, the kiosks verify the buyer’s age by reading the barcode on a driver’s license and matching the license photo with a video image of the buyer at the point of sale. An LCB worker monitors each transaction to confirm that the video image matches the purchaser’s ID. The kiosks also have built-in breath sensors to make sure buyers aren’t intoxicated. Transactions take fewer than 20 seconds. (Vending Times)

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About The Author

Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet was the author of a syndicated column called "News Quirks," which appeared weekly in Seven Days.


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