Assorted Stupidity #106

Oct. 16th, 2017 12:30 pm
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Posted by Kevin

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  • UPDATE: According to the¬†National Post, it will probably remain illegal to canoe under the influence in Canada for the foreseeable future. A pending bill would have provided that vessels “propelled exclusively by means of muscular power” would no longer be covered by the relevant Criminal Code provision. See Canada May Legalize Drunken Canoeing,”¬†Lowering the Bar (Sept. 29, 2017).¬†But MPs said they were persuaded by the Canadian Safe Boating Council that this would “send the wrong message,” and the bill was amended to remove the “muscular power” provision. The bill is still in committee, though, for now.
  • The Orlando Sentinel reports that the city has¬†paid $37,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who was arrested for what officers thought was meth but was actually flakes of sugar from a Krispy Kreme glazed donut. An officer’s “roadside drug test” came back positive for an illegal substance, but a slightly more expert test came back positive for sugar.
  • I get a fair amount of press releases from PR people, though it’s not clear to me how I get on these mailing lists. Case in point: I recently got a press release from a PR firm announcing that former congressman Michael Grimm was demanding that FEMA extend the final deadline for people to make claims for Hurricane Sandy relief. I don’t have a problem with the extension, I just wonder why they expect pro-Grimm messages from me given that my prior mentions of him have not been especially flattering.¬†See¬†Good Reason to Kill #48: Asked Wrong Question After State of the Union” (Jan. 29, 2014) and “Can a Convicted Felon Serve in Congress?” (Dec. 24, 2014) (answer: yes, although Grimm resigned after his conviction).
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Posted by Kevin

sad shark

The law of unintended consequences strikes again: an Austrian law intended to discriminate against Muslims‚ÄĒsorry, “to encourage assimilation into Austrian culture”‚ÄĒhas ended up punishing the nation’s shark mascots, according to reports this week.

I actually don’t know whether Austria has more than one shark mascot, but it has at least one. And that one reportedly got a ticket last Friday in Vienna because his shark head covered his face, something that has been illegal in Austria since the Anti-Face-Covering Act took effect on October 1st.

Is it actually called the “Anti-Face-Covering Act”? Well, technically it’s the¬†Bundesgesetz √ľber das Verbot der Verh√ľllung des Gesichts in der √Ėffentlichkeit (“Federal Law on the Prohibition of Covering the Face in Public”), but the Act says you can call it the Anti-Gesichtsverh√ľllungsgesetz (“Anti-Face-Covering Act”) for short. So, yes.

This is one of several recently enacted provisions relating to immigration, generally described in the legislation as being intended to encourage “integration” of migrants into Austrian society. The objectives of the Anti-Face-Covering Act in particular are said to be “the promotion of integration by strengthening participation in society and securing peaceful coexistence in Austria.” It is generally referred to as “the burqa ban,” because some cynics apparently believe the intent is actually to keep Muslim women from wearing burqas, but as you can see here, it doesn’t say anything about that:


¬ß¬†2.¬†(1) Wer an √∂ffentlichen Orten oder in √∂ffentlichen Geb√§uden seine Gesichtsz√ľge durch Kleidung oder andere Gegenst√§nde in einer Weise verh√ľllt oder verbirgt, dass sie nicht mehr erkennbar sind, begeht eine Verwaltungs√ľbertretung und ist mit einer Geldstrafe bis zu 150¬†Euro zu bestrafen….

(2) Ein Versto√ü gegen das Verh√ľllungsverbot gem√§√ü Abs.¬†1 liegt nicht vor, wenn die Verh√ľllung oder Verbergung der Gesichtsz√ľge durch Bundes- oder Landesgesetz vorgesehen ist, im Rahmen k√ľnstlerischer, kultureller oder traditioneller Veranstaltungen oder im Rahmen der Sportaus√ľbung erfolgt oder gesundheitliche oder berufliche Gr√ľnde hat.

Well, embarrassingly, Google translates¬†Verh√ľllungsverbot as “Veiling Ban,” but¬†Verh√ľllung seems to be a more general term that can also mean “cover,” “mask,” or “disguise,” so there’s that.

The first paragraph of the section provides that anyone who conceals his or her facial features with “clothing or other objects” in a public place or building can be punished with a fine of up to 150 euros. The second paragraph says the first one doesn’t apply if the concealment is required by another law (like the one requiring motorcycle helmets), is within “the framework of artistic, cultural, or traditional events,” or is done “in the exercise of sports or health or for professional reasons.” The explanatory notes work pretty hard to list examples of coverings that are permitted under these exceptions without ever suggesting that they would include clothing worn for religious reasons, like, let’s say, just speculating here, a burqa. And it appears that “cultural or traditional events” are understood to mean¬†Austrian culture and tradition, though after some confusion, the Interior Ministry clarified that the law won’t apply to Halloween costumes, even though Halloween is, to the best of my knowledge, not traditionally Austrian.

“I had no idea the law was so extreme it covered mascots,” said the manager of the advertising agency who sent the Austrian shark out to dance around in front of McShark’s, a new electronics shop in Vienna. But indeed it did apply, or at least police who harassed the shark last Friday believed it did. “The shark was fined because he refused to take his mask off,” a police spokesman confirmed, although based on the picture it looks like he just didn’t take it off quickly enough. “I’m only doing my job,” the shark complained, to no avail.

A number of reports speculated that the fine would probably be reversed in this case because the mascot was masked for “professional reasons,” one of the statutory exceptions. At least one speculated that the fine would probably be reversed because the person behind the mask was not a Muslim woman, but that’s one of those cynics I was talking about earlier.

I should mention that a number of U.S. states also have laws that make it illegal to wear a mask in public, but most of those were passed in the first half of the 20th century and were aimed at the Ku Klux Klan. Even in that context, though, the laws pose First Amendment problems, and so a ban like Austria’s that everybody understands is aimed at a disfavored cultural/religious practice would definitely not survive scrutiny here.

Not that a good American who likes freedom would actually try to pass something like that.

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Posted by Kevin

As you may recall, in March the sheriff of Worth County, Georgia, decided that the War on Drugs required a mass search of every student in the county’s high school (and their clothes, bags, lockers, and cars) on the grounds that he suspected three of those students of possessing drugs.¬†See¬†Georgia Cops Allegedly Grope 900 High-School Students, Are Probably in Some Trouble” (June 6, 2017). Not that it matters, but they found no drugs at all. They did encounter a civil-rights lawsuit, though, and the even better news is that a grand jury has now indicted the sheriff and two deputies who were involved in this outrage.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the¬†DA presented a 36-count indictment of Sheriff Jeff Hobby and five deputies, including charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violating the oath of office. (I briefly looked for a copy of that oath, but figured it was safe to assume it says something about either upholding the Constitution or not touching children without a really, really good reason for doing so.) Hobby was indicted on all three charges and two other deputies are also being charged. There are, of course, no details on why the grand jurors let the other three slide, including one who allegedly “searched” inside a student’s bra. All six officers may be suspended until the criminal case is resolved, however.

The sheriff denies any guilt, according to his attorney, who also complained about the unfairness of the grand-jury process. This complaint seems to arise from a new Georgia law that requires officers appearing before a grand jury to be subject to cross-examination and prevents them from submitting evidence to rebut statements made by the prosecutor. In other words, the “unfairness” is in subjecting police officers to the same rules you and I would be subjected to‚ÄĒif¬†we were allowed to appear before a grand jury considering an indictment against us, that is, which we are not. “It’s not a balanced proceeding,” the sheriff’s lawyer said.

No. No, it isn’t. It’s not balanced at all. It is deliberately unbalanced in the State’s favor, in fact. The sheriff just never had a problem with that (I’m guessing) until he was the one potentially being indicted. Now, he does.

As I also mentioned in June, this is one case, if unfortunately one of the few cases, in which “qualified immunity” will almost certainly not be a valid defense. The courts still might surprise me on that one, but given the child-groping allegations, maybe not.

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Posted by Kevin

Exactly what the man was arguing isn’t entirely clear from the report, not that it really matters. It was some sort of sovereign-citizen nonsense, and as usual with that stuff, it didn’t work.

The¬†News-Times¬†in Carteret County, North Carolina, reported last week that a 44-year-old man had been sentenced to at least five years in prison for a “slew” of drug and weapons charges. In August, Jerry Wayne Willis sold meth to an informant, police said, and a search warrant turned up more drugs and several firearms. Willis was arrested shortly thereafter, which is when the sovereign fun began:

Mr. Willis claimed not to be a person, but some sort of ‚Äúagricultural product‚ÄĚ and therefore not subject to the laws of North Carolina or the United States. He also told Judge Heath that his name was not Jerry Willis, but Willis Jerry.

The latter is just the sort of tricky argument that sovereign citizens like to make, the idea apparently being that the law has no power over you if it doesn’t say your name correctly or use the right punctuation. Dumb as it is, that argument’s pretty common.

The “agricultural product” claim seems to be new, though, and might be Willis Jerry’s own invention. The reporter may have misquoted him, of course. Willis/Jerry apparently made the argument in a written motion to dismiss, though, but if he did the reporter failed to share that document with the world, as it is his job to do, in my opinion. Jerry/Willis may have been making the “straw man” argument, which purports to distinguish between a person and the corresponding legal entity or “straw man” supposedly created at the time of that person’s birth. It’s the straw man that’s subject to legal rules, not the actual person, or so this ridiculous argument goes. A straw man could be considered a sort of agricultural product, I suppose, so maybe that’s what the reporter understood Jerry:Wayne:Willis to be saying.

Product’s liability

Regardless, the judge denied the motion to dismiss, holding that Willis was indeed subject to the law and would have to stand trial. That was scheduled for the following day‚ÄĒbut Willis, maybe unsurprisingly, failed to show up. (The report just says he “fled,” not whether he was out on bail or fled from the courthouse.) The trial went on without him, and he was convicted. In the meantime, police got a tip on Willis’s location, and put a house under surveillance.

On September 25, an officer

observed three female subjects packing up and leaving in the night and upon a traffic stop, discovered Mr. Willis lying in the backseat disguised in a female wig.

Or, two female subjects and one very poorly disguised agricultural product, I guess.

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Posted by Kevin

Pretty good video here from Velcro Companies, which seems to be the confusingly singular name of the company or companies that makes the product known as Velcro¬ģ. You may or may not have known that “Velcro” is a trademark, not just the name for the stuff. The company and its legal team would very much like you to know that, though, so that “Velcro” doesn’t become “generic” enough to lose trademark protection.

That’s happened with a number of other familiar terms, including (according to Wikipedia) “aspirin,” “dry ice,” “escalator,” “teleprompter,” and “trampoline,” all of which were once brand names entitled to trademark protection, but now aren’t. There are lots of other terms that are often used generically (such as “Band-Aid,” “Dumpster,” “Formica,” and of course “Google”) ¬†but are still trademarks at least for now. (A petition is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court about the status of “Google,” as it happens.)

As the Velcro Companies legal team says in the song, the company would prefer you call it “hook and loop,” not “Velcro”:

Actually, according to the making-of-the-video video, most of these people are probably actors, but at least two of them are in fact “real lawyers” who really do represent the company. It’d be better if all of them were really part of the company’s legal team, but then again maybe it wouldn’t be.


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