News Quirks 03.01.06
Curses, Foiled Again Swedish police investigating a burglary in Overtornea rang the number of a cellphone that had been among the items taken. "The thief answered the phone, but then just put it away without turning it off," police officer Kurt Paavola said. Officers subsequently overheard the man complaining about the taxi he had called to take him to neighboring Kalix. They intercepted the taxi and arrested the passenger.
Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time A woman in Springfield, Mo., had to be hospitalized, and several other women face serious health risks after they got tattoos from a door-to-door tattoo salesman using a makeshift tattoo gun. "It was wrapped with black tape, had a pin underneath it, had fishing wire going through it," victim Tamra Eason said. "You could tell it was a homemade gun." All the women wound up with infections where they got their tattoo and were advised to be tested for HIV and hepatitis. "We just wanted tattoos," said Eason, one of three women in her apartment complex who bought the man's sales pitch, "and now we're paying for it."
Brainstorms The Canadians are testing a system that compels motorists not to exceed posted speed limits. It combines onboard Global Positioning Satellite technology with a digital speed limit map to match vehicles' location with corresponding speed limits. Once a vehicle reaches that limit, the vehicle's on-board computer won't let you go any faster, no matter how hard you try. Announcing that 10 vehicles are being tested in the Ottawa area, Peter Burns of Transport Canada's road safety directorate, explained, "We are trying to assess the operational acceptance issues."
- Britain's House of Commons Transport Committee proposed that all passengers flying out of the country be required to pay extra in case their airline goes out of business while they're abroad. The universal surcharge would fund any stuck passenger's fare home on another airline.
- A growing number of Japanese restaurants in Singapore have begun serving "halal sushi" to attract Muslims in the city-state. "Halal" means preparing food in strict accordance with Islamic dietary laws, which prohibits alcohol, pork and meat from cattle and poultry that have not been slaughtered according to Islamic ritual. In the case of sushi, this means omitting mirin, a kind of rice wine.
- The government is giving Loran Balvanz a $500,000 grant to mass-produce a machine he invented that removes the odor from hog manure. Balvanz said that his Tempest dryer spins the manure at high speeds to vent the water, which causes the odor, so it evaporates in the outside air. The small quantity of odorless solids remaining can be stored and applied to fields as fertilizer when needed.
Third-Rate Burglar of the Week Police in Fairfax County, Va., charged George C. Dalmas III, 44, with committing 17 burglaries since last fall near CIA headquarters. A CIA official told the Washington Post that Dalmas works at the spy agency as a "mid-level administrative employee." Most of the break-ins occurred during working hours. After a victim who caught Dalmas in the act and chased him led police to him, investigators searched Dalmas' home and found among the stolen goods: cash, jewelry, antiques, license plates and bags stuffed with more than 1000 women's undergarments.
Diminished Capacity and Then Some Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing a mentally retarded criminal is unconstitutional, sparing Daryl R. Atkins, who scored 59 on an IQ test in 1998. In Virginia, where Atkins, now 27, was convicted of a 1996 murder, the cutoff for retardation is 70. A defense expert retested Atkins last year, however, and found that his IQ had jumped to 74. By early February, a prosecution expert said that it gone up to 76. Clinical psychologist Evan S. Nelson attributed the improvement to the mental activity involved during Atkins' years of litigation. "Oddly enough, because of his constant contact with the many lawyers that worked on his case, Mr. Atkins received more intellectual stimulation in prison than he did during his late adolescence and early adulthood," Nelson reported. "That included practicing his reading and writing skills, learning about abstract legal concepts and communicating with professionals."
- A lawyer representing Robert Bailey, 23, charged with murdering a police officer in Panama City Beach, Fla., withdrew from the case, explaining that he can better help Bailey avoid the death penalty by appearing as a witness on his behalf. Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith insisted that Bailey is either retarded or brain damaged. Prosecutors said that Bailey is faking mental incompetence, citing recordings of phone calls during which he confided to a friend that he was faking being "mildly retarded or crazy." Smith said that the calls actually prove his contention because Bailey was told that his calls and mail were being monitored but continued to make statements that hurt his case. "That just shows that he really is functioning at a really low level," Smith said, "because he thinks he's got everybody fooled."
- Legal experts declared that hit television shows "Law & Order" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" are distorting the expectations of jurors. The programs lead jurors to demand high-tech, indisputable forensic evidence before they will convict, but many cases have little forensic evidence and rely on circumstantial evidence. "They think that we have all the space-age equipment that they see on TV, and before you come back from the commercial break you have the results," Elissa Mayo, assistant lab director for the California Attorney General's Bureau of Forensic Services, said.