Category: Weird

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A Place for Paranoia

Looking for a way to rationalize your suspicions about the odd-looking guy you always see at the airport? Anxious to justify your worries about the stains on that backpack sitting in the hallway? Look no further. Paranoia has a new home page.

And for those obsessed with the imminent invasion of illegal immigrants in black helicopters, there’s a place for you as well!

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Best Law Review Article Sentence Ever

I promise that I am going to put up a real, substantive post soon, but I just came across the Best Law Review Article Sentence Ever:

For no human orifice was safe from the assaults of Victorian medical science, and vast ingenuity was expended in perfecting suitable instruments, or even mechanisms for storing them in serried ranks, ready for instant use, such as Reynolds Enema Rack, whose virtues were extolled in the Lancet in 1892.

from A.W.B. Simpson, “Quackery and Contract Law: The Case of the Carbolic Smoke Ball,” 14 J. Leg. Stud. 345 (1985). It is a testament to my current levels of stress and sleep deprivation that this sentence made my week.

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I’m Sorry… Sincerely, The IRS

Today, the New York Times reports, the National Taxpayer Advocate delivered her annual report to Congress. First established in 1998, the Taxpayer Advocate Service describes itself as “an independent organization within the IRS that assists taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm, who are seeking help in resolving tax problems that have not been resolved through normal channels, or who believe that an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should.” Judging by the generous use of exclamation points on its home page, moreover, the Service would appear to be quite excited about this mission.

Among other things, I was struck by certain aspects of the IRS’ present-day operations that the annual report critiques. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the IRS makes widespread – if ineffectual – use of private debt collectors, or that it charges (sometimes substantial) fees to respond to taxpayer inquiries.

Two reform proposals in the annual report, however, particularly caught my eye:

First, there is the Advocate’s proposal to adopt a new taxpayer bill of rights – an odd-seeming concept, to begin with. (Isn’t the Administrative Procedure Act the “bill of rights” of the modern administrative state?) This bill of rights, moreover, would include a list of taxpayer “responsibilites,” including requirements that they (in the Times‘ words) “conduct themselves honestly and [] cooperate with auditors and tax collectors.” But what exactly is the “honest conduct” the Advocate has in mind? Avoiding fraudulent statements to the IRS? Surely, we’ve already got that covered. What’s other honest conduct might be expected? Some general promise of good and clean living?

Even more eye-catching were the report’s proposed “Apology Payments,” to be doled out by the Advocate’s office – in amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000, and up to a collective cap of $1 million – to taxpayers who suffer “excessive expense or undue burden” because of IRS error or delay. Leaving aside the procedural complexities of such a scheme, are there analogous arrangements to be found in other areas of law? (The Times reports that the U.K. and Australia already have such a scheme in their tax code.) Do we do it anywhere else?

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Who Is Frank Pasquale?

pasquale-frank2.jpgYou know him as Frank Pasquale, as he blogs here occasionally regularly frequently like a madman on steroids, but who is he really?

You might not know that Frank Pasquale recently won a victory in a court case in Texas, In re Does 1-10, — S.W.3d –, 2007 WL 4328204 (Tex. Ct. App., Dec. 12, 2007):

Essent PRMC, L.P. (Hospital) filed suit against ten John Does alleging they had defamed the Hospital and violated other laws by posting comments on an Internet site. The trial court ordered that anonymous contributer John Doe number one be identified by his Internet service provider (ISP). Anonymous John Doe number one (identified in his blog as fac-p and Frank Pasquale) has filed a petition for writ of mandamus asking this Court to order the district court to withdraw its order directing a third party ISP to reveal his identity to the Hospital.

As Frank mentioned earlier, this other Frank Pasquale is his “purloined persona.” Several others commented on the fake Frank and the lawsuit in question. For example, Professor Bill McGeveran wrote:

A Blogger page called “The Paris Site” (cute pun) is a detailed gripe site about the local hospital in Paris, Texas and its parent company, Essent Healthcare. According to this news story in the local Paris paper, Essent has sued the anonymous bloggers behind the site for defamation, alleging that the site suggests the hospital is culpable for Medicare fraud and other wrongdoing. The blogger(s) use various pseudonyms, including, at one point, “Frank Pasquale.” The state court judge in the case has ordered a local ISP to provide the real name and address of the site’s proprietor.

This sort of thing occurs fairly frequently online. On political blogs you often see commenters signing the name of elected officials, usually to parody them by making sarcastic or ridiculous remarks in their name. You also see it all the time on sites like AutoAdmit/XOXOHTH, where part of the style of so-called joke is to use other people’s names (or screen names) and turn them into sock puppets. If obvious enough as humor, those may or may not be misleading, but I have little doubt that this sort of impersonation also happens in many contexts that are outright deceptive.

See also this post by Ruchira Paul.

In the lawsuit, John Doe aka “Frank Pasquale” prevailed, with the court declaring the importance of protecting the First Amendment rights of anonymous speakers. The court adopted the approach in Doe v. Cahill,, 884 A.2d 451 (Del.2005), an approach that I believe is the best. I blogged about Cahill here. According to the court:

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Breaking Up: From Face-to-Face to Facebook

In my book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, I write about how members of the current generation — what I call “Generation Google” — are increasingly spreading gossip and rumors about their private lives online. Some people have few inhibitions, especially one woman who decided to break up with her boyfriend by posting it on Facebook.

facebook-breakup3.JPG

From Valleywag:

Can’t a girl publicly humiliate her boyfriend by dumping him via her Facebook status message anymore without getting harrassed by a horde of social news readers? Nope. New York videoblogger Sandra [lastname] tried to get away with it. The image above got over 1,600 votes on Digg.

On Digg, there are scores of comments attacking the woman.

Over at Wired’s Underwire blog, Jenna Wortham writes:

Since the story hit Digg on Dec. 4, the count (at the time of posting) clocks in at 1,878 Diggs and 482 comments. In addition to an onslaught of scathingly harsh comments denouncing “her” actions, a litany of low blows were slung, mocking her looks and ridiculing any bit of personal information scavenged from the web, adding up to the thinly veiled conclusion: The crowd agrees that Sandra [lastname] got exactly what she deserved. If the real Sandra [lastname] is indeed suffering at the expense of a jilted lover or a Punk’d-style prank gone horribly awry, one has to wonder at the long-term ramifications of this alleged hack and subsequent Digg-villification. Will future friends, boyfriends and employers remember this murky quagmire and steer clear?

One blog refers to the breakup as “Dumping 2.0.”

Meanwhile, it’s time for Facebook to snap into action with the appropriate Social Ad.

Hat tip: Guilherme Roschke

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Saving the planet via polygamy

There’s a really bizarre article in today’s Washington Post. Under the title, “Divorce Found to Harm the Environment,” the article states:

Divorce is not just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study by two Michigan State University researchers.

The analysis found that cohabiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water. . . .

Married households use energy and water more efficiently than divorced ones because they share these resources — including lighting and heating — among more people, said Jianguo Liu, one of the paper’s co-authors. Moreover, the divorced households they surveyed between 1998 and 2002 used up more space, occupying between 33 and 95 percent more rooms per person than in married households.

This is certainly a novel use of statistics, and likely to see much use in intra-family discussions this holiday season. I foresee the use of this statistic as another arrow in the quiver of passive-aggressive matchmaking parents everywhere. (“I don’t see why George can’t just find a nice girl, settle down, and save the environment.”) But really, the stats seem to prove too much, don’t they?

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Yoshida Battles the Pink Jellyfish

pinkjellyfish.jpgThe WSJ has a great story on a jellyfish invasion in Japanese waters:

Fisherman Ryoichi Yoshida pulled in his nets before dawn one morning, hoping for lots of yellowtail and mackerel. But the fish were overwhelmed by a heaving mass of living pink slime. The creatures, called Nomura jellyfish, can measure six feet across and weigh up to about 450 pounds.

Fish poisoned by jellyfish tentacles die with their mouths agape. That mars their appearance and reduces their value by as much as 20%. “When their mouths are wide open, it means they’ve died going, ‘I’m in pain! I’m in pain!’ ” explains Mr. Yoshida.

The jellyfish could lead to an international incident–either over Chinese industrialization, or global warming:

[A] computer model of ocean currents suggests the jellyfish are breeding off the Chinese coast near the mouth of the Yangtze River. One theory is that pollution, perhaps linked to industrialization in China, is helping create more algae in the sea. The algae are food for plankton, which is food for jellyfish. . . . [But the] dean of the Ocean University of China [says] “Floating jellyfish are mostly in the Sea of Japan….That’s Japan and Korea’s problem.”

One fear among scientists is that the creatures are multiplying in a “jellyfish spiral.” Shinichi Uye, a leading jellyfish researcher at Hiroshima University in western Japan, thinks overfishing off China has led to fewer plankton-eating fish, leaving more plankton for the jellyfish to suck up. This growing army of jellyfish then also eats fish eggs, resulting in even fewer fish.

If China is helping to generate giant pink jellyfish, it will be interesting to see if any international body can do anything to control the problem. On the other hand, the new popularity of “vanilla-and-jellyfish ice cream” shows that the industrious can turn even the most noxious pests into a blessing in disguise.

Photo Credit: Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

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What Does It Take For a Judge to Jail 46 People in His Courtroom?

judge3a.jpgFrom CNN comes this bizarre story of a judge in Niagara Falls who had 46 people in his courtroom thrown into jail. Why? A cell phone rang and interrupted his court proceedings:

A judge in Niagara Falls, New York, has apologized for jailing nearly four dozen people over a ringing mobile phone in his courtroom, his attorney said Wednesday.

In removing City Court Judge Robert Restaino from office Tuesday, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct called his decision to lock up 46 people after no one claimed ownership of the phone “a gross deviation from the proper role of a judge.” . . .

“We conclude that respondent’s behavior … warrants the sanction of removal, notwithstanding his previously unblemished record on the bench and the testimony as to his character and reputation,” the panel ruled.

According to the commission report, Restaino was presiding over a domestic-violence case when a ringing mobile phone interrupted proceedings. When no one took responsibility for the ringing phone, Restaino ordered that court security officers search for the device.

About 70 defendants were in the courtroom that day to take part in a monitoring program for domestic violence offenders. When no one admitted to owning the phone, Restaino heard the remaining cases and then recalled the cases of defendants who had already been released to question them about the phone, according to the commission report.

After all the defendants denied having the phone or knowing who it belonged to, Restaino sent 46 people to jail. Fourteen who were unable to make bail were handcuffed and jailed for several hours.

According to the report, Restaino decided to release defendants only after learning reporters were inquiring about their incarceration.

I guess inconsiderate cell phone man has met his match.

15

The World’s Most Expensive Dessert and How to Get into the Guinness Book of World Records

sundae2.jpgFrom Reuters comes this story about the world’s most expensive sundae:

A day after New York City came up with a $1,000 bagel, a local restaurateur unveiled a $25,000 chocolate sundae on Wednesday, setting a Guinness world record for the most expensive dessert.

Stephen Bruce, owner of Serendipity 3, partnered with luxury jeweler Euphoria New York to create the “Frozen Haute Chocolate,” a blend of 28 cocoas, including 14 of the most expensive and exotic from around the globe.

The dessert, spelled with two Rs, is infused with 5 grams (0.2 ounces) of edible 23-karat gold and served in a goblet lined with edible gold. At the base of the goblet is an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds.

The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound.

It is eaten with a gold spoon decorated with white and chocolate-colored diamonds, which can also be taken home.

There are many perplexing things about this story. First, what fool would actually buy this sundae? Second, is this all it takes to get into the Guinness Book of World Records?

I would like to be in the Guinness Book too, so I’m going to do Serendipity 3 one better — I’m offering a sundae for $50,000. It consists of store-bought Edy’s ice cream (3 scoops — extra scoops will cost $10,000 more), whipped cream, and some Hershey’s chocolate sauce. And you can keep the spoon too. I’ll even throw in the bowl.

I really don’t understand why there’s any category for most-expensive anything. After all, anybody can set whatever price he or she wants, so it’s quite easy to claim the award for most-expensive.

By the way, I am also selling a million-dollar hamburger. I think that this is also the world’s most expensive. Wow, that’s two Guinness world records in just one day!

Photo Credit: Reuters