Lead Story

A November article in the New York Times profiled Howard Stapleton, a security consultant in the UK, and his new invention designed to keep away loitering teenagers. Called the Mosquito, it exploits the fact (confirmed by an Oxford neurophysiology professor) that the human capacity to hear high-frequency sound deteriorates with age: the device gives off a noise that is painfully irritating to most people under 20 but barely audible to most people over 30. The 34-year-old owner of a convenience store in Barry, Wales, who’s had great success with the Mosquito said he could hear its sound as a “pulsating chirp,” but a 15-year-old girl who no longer hangs around outside the store with her friends said, “It’s loud and squeaky and it just goes through you.”

The Litigious Society

Barnard Lorence filed a $2 million lawsuit against the First National Bank and Trust in Stuart, Florida, in November, accusing it of falsely advertising that it cares about its customers. He alleged that he was treated rudely by a manager when he asked that the bank waive a $32 overdraft fee and that stress from the incident had aggravated brain damage he suffered in a 2001 accident.

Looking Good

Robert Murray refused to appear at his sentencing hearing in September in New York City because the judge had ordered him to wear Hannibal Lecter-style restraints, which he found “humiliating.” Murray, who is HIV positive, had pleaded guilty to five counts of attempted murder for trying to infect police officers and a hospital worker by biting or spitting at them. And Biswanath Halder, facing hundreds of felony counts (originally 338, subsequently reduced to 202) including aggravated murder and terrorism for an alleged shooting spree in Cleveland, declined to come to court in November until the judge let his lawyers go buy him a new hairpiece.

Recurring Themes

Things still different in Asia: In an October dispatch from Seoul, the Los Angeles Times reported on Spam’s status as a high-end delicacy in South Korea, where 40 percent of all Spam sold is subsequently given as a gift. An estimated 8 million cans change hands each Chusok (a holiday usually described as Korean Thanksgiving), and a 12-can boxed set goes for about $44 in upscale department stores. Jeon Pyoung-soo, the South Korean brand manager for Spam, continues to be puzzled by the product’s lesser stature in the U.S.: “I can’t understand what is funny about Spam.”

Least Competent People

Robbin Doolin, 31, accidentally fell out of her car while driving on U.S. 71 in Kansas City, Missouri, in July. As she later explained to police, she opened the door to spit but leaned out too far. Witnesses saw her roll across the pavement, then immediately get up to chase the car, which plowed through the guardrail and rolled down an embankment.

Bobby Reynolds, 74, and his son Gary, 43, were hospitalized in June after their car got stuck on the tracks at a railroad crossing near Happy, Texas. After unsuccessfully trying to move it, authorities told the Amarillo Globe-News, the men apparently fell asleep in the car, which was then hit by a train.

Book Learning Overrated

In November in Santa Maria, California, John Robert Schrieffer was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to a charge of vehicular manslaughter. The 74-year-old Schrieffer–who was driving on a suspended license when he crashed his sports car at more than 100 miles per hour into a van on U.S. 101, killing one person and injuring seven others–won the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Well Put

Kelley Borland of Evans, Colorado, on the bagful of feces he received in September together with a ransom note demanding $100 for the return of his missing dog: “It looked like my dog’s poop, but I’m not a dog poop analyst.” (Police said they believed the writer of the note was a juvenile, in part because it instructed Borland to leave the ransom “no later than 10 PM” at a nearby skate park.)

Latest Truck Spills

A Krispy Kreme truck swerved to avoid hitting a dog, crashed, and flung trays containing hundreds of doughnuts into a restaurant window (Macon, Georgia, September). A truck containing mail bound for an Internal Revenue Service processing center crashed on the San Mateo Bridge, spilling 30,000 pieces of tax-related correspondence onto the bridge and into San Francisco Bay (San Mateo, California, September). And within a period of a few hours, a truck carrying 19 tons of stick dynamite overturned on Interstate 70 and a truck carrying 16 tons of toilets flipped over on an on-ramp to I-75 (Summerford and Sharonville, Ohio, June).

People With Issues

In November 23-year-old Parker Houghtaling was hospitalized after getting hit in the head by a Metro-North train arriving at the station in Poughkeepsie, New York. A Metro-North spokesperson said witnesses “saw him lean into the train.” The Poughkeepsie Journal reported that Houghtaling had been involved in a very similar incident in 2002, when he leaned off a Manhattan subway platform and stuck his head into the path of an arriving train; he was hospitalized then too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.