Curses, foiled again
When police questioned the apparently drunk driver of a vehicle that crashed into some trees in Iowa City, Iowa, she identified herself as Tameka Johnson and gave her age as 34. When they told her they were transporting her to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for treatment, she confessed that her real name was Decontee J. Fletcher, 30. Fletcher works at the facility as an assistant professor in the neurology clinic. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Concert promoter Charles Attal claimed he's the victim of a "witch hunt" after he cut down several dozen juniper trees on his property in West Lake Hills, Texas. City officials said he broke the law, which forbids removing any tree in the city limits, dead or alive, without a permit. Attal explained he cut down the trees, which he insists were dead, because he feared stray sparks or a discarded cigarette could ignite a wildfire. The city wants him to plant junipers whose diameters total 338 inches, which the city arborist said is the combined diameter of the cut trees; otherwise, it is threatening a lawsuit and fines of up to $2,000 per tree. Attal is holding out to replace only 200 diameter inches. (Austin American-Statesman)
When retired big-league ballplayer John Olerud moved into his new 12-room, 6,680-square-foot hillside house in Clyde Hill, Wash., he asked the city Board of Adjustment to order his neighbor to cut down two mature, 50-foot trees that partially block Olerud's view of Lake Washington, the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains, and lower the home's appraised value by $255,000. Even though the trees were there when Olerud built the home, the board backed Olerud's request and ordered neighbor Bruce Baker to remove the trees. At the first of two city hearings, Olerud declared that Baker, a Presbyterian minister, should let Olerud have the same commanding view that Baker enjoys because of Jesus' admonition to love your neighbor. (Seattle Times)
Victory of sorts
Saudi Arabia announced it might abolish beheading because of a shortage of swordsmen to carry out executions. If so, it will switch to firing squads. (Ahram Online)
The New York Police Department began testing a high-tech scanner capable of detecting concealed weapons by reading terahertz, the natural energy emitted by people and inanimate objects. "If something is obstructing the flow of that radiation, for example a weapon, the device will highlight that object," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, adding the device is portable and small enough to be placed in a police vehicle or on a street corner where gunplay has occurred. The New York Civil Liberties Union raised concerns about "virtual pat-downs," and some security experts warned that false readings could lead to unjustified stops. (New York's Daily News)
When Virginia resident Aaron Tobey declined screening by advanced imaging technology X-ray machines — so-called nude body scanners — at the Richmond International Airport, opting for a pat-down instead, he stripped to his shorts to display a protest of airport security measures written in marker on his chest: "Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated." Claiming the Transportation Security Administration then illegally handcuffed and interrogated him for 90 minutes before he was charged with disorderly conduct, Tobey sued the TSA in federal court. He lost, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. (Wired)
The re-election of Barack Obama has prompted many right-wing Americans to plan a retreat from the world in proposed liberal-free enclaves:
New-media entrepreneur Glenn Beck announced plans to build Independence USA, a $2 billion, self-sufficient, libertarian city-cum-theme park that would celebrate "the rebirth of our nation through its own principles." Beck said he was inspired by Walt Disney's original plans for a 20,000-resident Epcot Center.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel pledged $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, which plans to establish self-governing, libertarian-minded nations on giant mobile platforms floating in international waters. Each 12,000-ton platform would house 300 residents.
"Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles," proclaims the website of The Citadel, a walled community of up to 7,000 residents centered on a firearms factory being proposed for northern Idaho. Its website boasts the fortress-like city will feature "no recycling police" and require all residents to "maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO, at least 5 magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition." Prospective residents must also pledge to "carry a loaded sidearm whenever visiting the Citadel Town Center."
Organizers said Independence and the Citadel will welcome visitors "like Colonial Williamsburg," according to Larry Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. "These communities seem like a cross between the Henry Ford Museum village and the Creation Museum in Kentucky." (The Washington Times)
Trouble in nirvana
Claiming exclusive rights to the name and teaching of Transcendental Meditation, the Maharishi Foundation is suing Thom Knoles, a former associate who left in 1997 and set up his own version, called Vedic Meditation. The foundation, which teaches thousands of students a year and owns trademarks for Transcendental Meditation and TM, asked a federal court to enforce its trademark rights and claims of false advertising against Knoles. His supporters accuse the foundation of unfairly seeking a monopoly on a technique that has existed for thousands of years. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi developed its modern incarnation in the 1950s in India and spread it worldwide before establishing a university and the foundation in Fairfield, Iowa, in the 1970s. The legal dispute will decide whether rivals can market similar services and benefits without obtaining a license from the Iowa group. (Associated Press)