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News of the Weird 5/29/14

by Chuck Shepherd

Gigadollars and Cents In April, Anton Purisima filed a claim in Federal District Court in New York City that the Lowering The Bar blog calculated was for the largest monetary demand ever made in a lawsuit—”$2,000 decillion” (or 2 followed by 36 zeroes, which of course is many times more money than exists on planet Earth). Purisima’s lawsuit names Au Bon Pain, Carepoint Health, Kmart, the New York City Transit Authority and LaGuardia Airport among the parties allegedly causing him so much distress (by fraud, civil rights violations and even “attempted murder”). Lowering The Bar also noted that “$2,000 decillion” could also have been accurately nominated as “$2 undecillion” or even “two octillion gigadollars.”

The Continuing Crisis Only in Florida—(1) Calvin Rodriguez was arrested in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in May as the man who had been using a shaved key to steal a series of cars from parking lots. His spree came to an abrupt halt as he sped away from police in a stolen Honda Civic only to crash into a huge alligator in the road. (2) On May 1st, a wildlife trapper called to Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, south of Sarasota, removed four alligators (one of which was 8 feet long) from the campus while classes were in session (but without disruption). (3) Beachcombers in the Gulf of Mexico town of Redington Beach, Florida, were treated on May 17th to the sight of a full-grown elephant treading water about 20 yards offshore. (The animal had made its way to the water after being unloaded for a commercial birthday party appearance.)

Latest Religious Messages In April, India’s Delhi High Court judges declined to halt the local government’s program of posting pictures of deities on the walls of buildings in order to discourage public urination (that surely no one would soil his lord). The plaintiffs pointed out that the campaign was so clearly ineffective that perhaps the deities’ images were even making the problem worse—that “evidence” so far shows that confronting the images might even compel some people to relieve the “pressure on the bladder.”
• An unnamed 60-year-old Buddhist monk was arrested in Nantou County, Taiwan, in April after a convenience-store manager said he was caught red-handed swiping packets of beef jerky. “I don’t know why,” he told police, “but lately I had this craving for meat.” He also had trouble with honesty, initially denying his guilt before finally confessing to the officer that “I have let Lord Buddha down.” (Buddhists traditionally are strict vegetarians.)

Fine Points in the Law: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2013 that it was not necessarily illegal for teachers to send students sexually oriented text messages—that the state law banning the practice violated “free speech.” As a result, in February 2014, prosecutors in Tarrant County dropped their case against a junior-high teacher who had exchanged 688 text messages with a 13-year-old female student over a six-day period in 2012, on topics such as “sexual preferences and fantasies” and whether either of them ever walked naked around the house. The messages would be illegal, the Court had ruled, only if they led to a meeting or an offer of sex.

• Despite a 1971 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring that governments could not punish people who are merely “annoying,” dozens of towns (according to a March Wall Street Journal report) continue to regard the behavior as criminal. (The justices decided the word is too “vague” to give fair warning of which behaviors are illegal, but an Indiana deputy attorney general told the Journal that anyone with “ordinary intelligence” knows what is annoying.) New York has such a law, as do Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Cumberland, Maryland—among the 5,000 mentions of forms of “to annoy” in a computer search of municipal ordinances. (Britain’s House of Lords in January blocked a proposed anti-annoyance law.)

• Among the discretionary punishments authorized to Georgia judges is banishing an offender from the county in which he committed the crime. Complained driver Ricardo Riley (who as of February is barred from Walton County), “I didn’t commit no murder, I’m not a sex offender, I’m not a criminal. I just got a speeding ticket.” Judge Brad Brownlow, perhaps irritated at Riley’s request to reduce the original $250 fine, instead piled on punishments—including banishment. Walton County is just outside the Atlanta metro area, and Riley, from adjacent Gwinnett County, has friends and co-workers who live in Walton—but whom he can no longer visit.

Update Ethan Couch, 17, was convicted of DUI manslaughter last year after killing four people, but benefited at sentencing from a counselor’s testimony describing him as a victim of “affluenza”—a condition in which children of wealthy families hopelessly feel “entitlement” and are prone to irresponsibility. In April, the Vernon, Tex., hospital providing Ethan’s court-ordered rehabilitation announced that Ethan’s “wealthy” parents would nonetheless be billed only for about 6 percent of the cost of treating the “affluenza”—$1,170 of an anticipated $21,000 monthly tab—with Texas taxpayers picking up the remainder.