Gravity: That's the Law


No Exit

If you think you're free, there's no escape possible.

- Ram Dass

There's No Escape

Two hotel proprietors fined $750 each for using a building which had inadequate means of escape, moments later discovered they were locked in Timaru's courthouse - unable to escape.

Judge Edward Ryan had extended the sitting of Timaru District Court until after 5pm, giving his decision that Kevin Wayne Gore and John Heasley were guilty on the charge, but not guilty of overcrowding at the Hydro Grand hotel.  The judge said a warning had now been given.  Any further offences could expect much harsher penalties, with legislation providing for a fine up to $200,000.

When the court adjourned, the defendants and their counsel left the main courtroom.  They returned moments later to complain there was no way out - all the marked exits had been locked.

Fire Service safety officer Tony Smith, among those temporarily locked in, later said that if the Fire Service received a complaint about the incident it would be acted on. - NZPA

Source: The Evening Post Friday 15 December 1995

Law Restricts Sleeping to Bedrooms

Now against the law?

Richmond - A bill that would let a United States county prohibit its residents from sleeping in rooms other than a bedroom has won approval in Virginia state's senate.  Jamming 15 to 20 people into a tiny two-bedroom house diminished property values, took up parking spaces and robbed neighbours of peace and quiet, said the bill's sponsor, Leslie L Byrne, a state senator.  "We are asking that they not use their kitchens as bedrooms," Byrne said.  "What they do in their actual bedrooms, I don't care."

The bill, if approved, would give Fairfax County new authority to go after people whose homes have been turned into virtual hotels. - AP

Source: The Dominion Monday 29 January 2001

Don't Ban Smokers

...burn them...and lots of others, too

At the end of last year, a town called Friendship Heights, in Maryland's Montgomery County, approved America's (and thus the world's) strictest tobacco policy.  Town officers courageously banned smoking on all public property, including streets, pavements and public squares.  "It's a public health issue," said the mayor, Alfred Muller, who is also a doctor.  "We don't have the right to outlaw tobacco, but we're doing what we can within our rights."

This newspaper has expressed disgruntlement with the element of intolerance that is increasingly manifesting itself within America's anti-tobacco movement.  It must be said, however, that doughty Friendship Heights has discovered an approach that liberals can embrace.  Private property is its owners' sanctuary, but the public rules in public spaces.  Undeniably, the streets belong to the government; what happens in them, therefore, is the government's business.

On this worthy principle, smoking should be merely the beginning.  For example, it is clear that the consumption of fatty foods contributes to heart disease, strokes and other deadly ailments.  Besides, eating junk makes you fat and ugly.  What people do at home is their own affair, but why allow them to abuse the public streets for this gluttony?  America's pavements and boardwalks are overridden with persons, many of them overweight, who amble along licking ice cream or gobbling chips.  In many cities, hot dogs are mongered, quite openly, on the pavement itself.  All this should be stopped.  Not just in Friendship Heights but in other enlightened districts, it should be illegal to eat anything but low-fat foods in public zones.  Because Americans consume too little by way of fruits and vegetables, in time (it is best to move slowly, because people's rights must be respected) streets should become strictly vegetarian.

More can be done.  Shrieking newspaper headlines create stress for those who may not wish to view them.  People who want to buy and read papers should therefore be required to do so in private, America has long and justly sought to prevent the entanglement of religion with public life.  What people do in church or at home is their business.  However, praying, sermonising or wearing religious garb in the streets surely compromises the requirement that the public weal not be dragooned into supporting religion.

There is the environment to consider, as well.  That people exhale carbon dioxide in public places, thus contributing to global warming, is probably inevitable, and America's politicians would be wise to permit it.  But methane, too, is a greenhouse gas, and an odiferous one.  Its emission in public places, where it can neither be avoided nor filtered, seems an imposition on both planetary hygiene and human comfort.  Breakers of wind, surely, can be required to wait until they can answer their needs in private; and prosecuted when they fail.  Kudos, then, to Friendship Heights.  Other towns should take note.  If they intend to fulfil their responsibilities to the health and welfare of citizens, to public order, and above all to the public streets and parks whose rights the authorities are sworn to uphold, then the way ahead is clear.

Source: The Economist 13 January 2001

Also see:

bulletWe're All Addicted to Cooked Food - so stop smelling up my air!

Dirty Deal

by Chuck Shepherd

Police Blotter - Jeffrey Bruette and his former roommate filed an $8 million lawsuit against the Montgomery County, MD, police alleging that they were humiliated when child-pornography charges were filed against them because of a videotape they had shot and handed to police.

In early 1999, the two men, concerned that a teenage neighbour boy was stealing from them, had set up a surveillance camera, which happened to catch the boy involved in sex with the men's dogs.  They ultimately handed the tape to police to facilitate the boy getting counselling, but then police arrested them as if the video had been made for sexual purposes, and the men now sue to clear their reputations.

Source: Funny Times January 2001 News of the Weird

Iranian Dance Teacher Banned from Weddings

An Iranian-American dancer has been given a 10-year suspended jail sentence and banned from teaching for performing in public with women.  Mohammad Khordadian is also ordered to remain in Iran for 10 years and barred from attending public celebrations or weddings of people who are not his relatives for three years.

A Tehran court imposed the sentence for promoting moral corruption by holding dance classes in the United States.  Men and women dancing together in public is not permitted under Iran's strict interpretation of Islamic behaviour.

A website [] promoting his classes in the US is dedicated to helping him overturn the ruling.  Mr Khordadian, a 46-year-old pop and folk dancer told the court he never intended to corrupt anyone.  The dancer was jailed in May during his first visit to Iran in 20 years.

He has been released from Tehran's Evin prison with the 10-year suspended jail term set to be implemented if he is convicted again on the same charge.  His lawyer says the dancer will appeal the verdict.  He quoted Mr Khordadian as testifying: "Dancing is my job and I had no intention of promoting corruption among the youth."  His lawyer added the court's ban on Khordadian's leaving Iran was intended to "keep him away from an atmosphere that may provoke him to repeat his offences."

The court verdict against Khordadian coincides with a new crackdown on what Iranian officials call "acts of social immorality".

Source: Monday 8 July 2002

Man Caught Using Alias from "The Three Stooges"

Lubbock, Texas - Patrick Michael Penker, 54 years old, pleaded guilty to money laundering and identity fraud in US District Court here after a local bank manager recognised an alias Mr Penker lifted from an episode of "The Three Stooges."

In late 1999, Mr Penker bought a cashier's check from a branch of Lubbock-based American State Bank, made out to "Howie Dewey Cheatham."  That was a variation of "Dewey, Cheatham & Howe," a law firm mentioned in one of the popular Three Stooges film shorts that began running in the 1930s.  The law firm re-emerged more recently in episodes of National Public Radio's "Car Talk."  When Mr Penker tried to get American State to reissue the check the following year, John Reed, the bank manager, recognised the name, though he couldn't exactly place it.

Mr Reed called the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which found Mr Penker had used a variety of names and Social Security numbers as early as 1997 to obtain credit cards and apply for lines of credit, amassing more than $1 million in cash advances and credit purchases.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Tuesday 28 August 2001

Lawyer Has No Luck at All

London - If there were a prize for the world's unluckiest man, British solicitor Edward Bentley would surely be in the running.

His first mistake was to lose thousands of pounds in bad investments.  And disaster followed when he tried to recoup the losses by gambling with money stolen from clients, British newspapers reported Saturday.  His first idea was to fly to Monte Carlo and place a single 60,000 pounds ($96,000) roulette bet on either the red or black, which would have doubled his money had he won.  But the casino's maximum stake on this kind of bet was 10,000 pounds, so he flew back frustrated.  Next he tried betting on racing and after careful study of the form books placed a 10,900 pounds on a horse that was bound to win.  It fell.  Then he tried the stock market, buying a risky 49,000-pound futures option which promised a huge reward if the main FTSE-100 index fell.  It rose, leaving him with a grand total of 1,000 pounds from his original stake.

By now Bentley must have realised his luck was not going to improve and he tried to commit suicide by sitting in his car with a pipe from the exhaust pumping noxious gases into the vehicle.  The engine promptly seized up.  He tried again, but his second attempt was halted after police stopped him during a routine vehicle check.  He told investigators the theft had turned into a "comic opera."  Bentley's only stroke of luck was finding a lenient judge, who gave him a 15-month suspended sentence Friday for stealing 64,000 pounds of his clients' money.

Source: Reuters Thursday 4 March 1999

I have a few comments about Mr Bentley and others like him - and the leniency shown to these sorts of people in the courts.  When people choose to make their money through taking advantage of others rather than by adding value to a transaction, then they need to be judged by sterner laws.  Bentley sounds like he attempted suicide with about as much aptitude as he displayed when investing other people's money.  Meanwhile, Bentley got a vacation in Monte Carlo, a chance to indulge in his loves of betting on the horses and investing in the stock market - all with other people's money.  A couple of half-hearted attempts at so-called suicide and and a story cast to make him look like a bumbler rather than a thief and he gets off with a suspended sentence?  This is beyond belief.

It's not only lawyers who get lucky and get off...

Carrier Sentenced for Failure to Deliver Mail

Hundreds of Rutherford residents missed out on some of their mail for months, even years, because their mail carrier didn't always feel like making deliveries, federal authorities say.  Michael Clark failed to deliver more than 50,000 items on two routes covering 920 addresses over three years, postal officials said.  Clark, 28, an employee of the Rutherford post office since 1994, was sentenced in June to five years' probation and a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty in federal court to theft of mail.

Although Clark generally made his regular rounds, officials said, he dumped mail he didn't feel like delivering in trash bins - and in some cases opened mail and gave the contents to friends and family.  "He just made a poor decision," Clark's lawyer, John Yauch, told the Record of Hackensack.  "He regrets what he did."  Yauch said Clark has a new job, but declined to say where.

Source: The Sunday Star-Ledger (Morris County New Jersey) 15 July 2001

I don't mean to be misunderstood here.  I'm not advocating punishment for punishment's sake.  I was not in the courtroom and I do not know either Bentley or Clark.  If I knew all the facts of the case, I may feel that justice had indeed been served in each instance.  I think three things are important:

bulletThe perpetrator of a crime needs to understand the magnitude of his/her actions, including empathising with the victims.
bulletThere needs to be a change in the perpetrator such that the same offending, or similar offending, is not likely to re-occur.
bulletFinally, where possible, there needs to be an attempt at restitution - if not to the original victims (because they are dead, cannot be found, or their loss cannot be replaced), then to other victims.

If these things are not present, then the perpetrator needs to enter a controlled environment where personal growth can be effected and/or future potential victims can be spared grief.  That controlled environment can, in fact, be quite liveable, in spite of what conservatives may think.

See (on the subject of conjugal rights for prisoners):

bulletPrison Punishment - "It is liberal claptrap in the extreme to expect those victims - whose lives have in many cases been shattered - to accept their attackers being given the rights and privileges normally reserved for law abiding citizens...

Lawyer's £300,000 for Writing Letter

A German lawyer won himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records after he earned more than £300,000 for less than an hour's work.  Dr Juergen Graefe won the fee for sending a standard letter to the German taxman to correct an elderly client's tax bill.  The letter pointed out that his client could not have possibly run up a €287 million tax bill on his €17,000 income from investments.  The taxman agreed and amended the amount to a few thousand euros and, under German law, the lawyer based his fee on the amount of the reduction.

This week a German court ruled that the lawyer should get a €440,000 euro fee for his work.  The taxman foots the bill.  The lawyer's client was a 70-year-old from St Augustin near Bonn, who was sent the bill after visiting his local tax office to make his tax declaration in 2001.  He put down an estimate on his earnings of €11,000, but then corrected it to €17,000 - which was mistakenly entered into the computer by tax staff as an income of €1,100,017,000.  A spokesman for Dr Graefe said: "The taxman follows up every little mistake, squeezing every penny out of the good citizens of Germany and showing no mercy in their demands for tax money.  "Why should my client be expected to give up his perfectly legal right to have his fee paid?"


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