NewsQuirks 591

Curses, Foiled Again

A woman robbed a New York City bank, making off with $8,300 in cash, but police arrested suspect Valerie Coletti, 41, a block from the bank after a bank employee told them she was trying to make her getaway on a city bus. Police said Coletti told them she took the slow-moving bus because she didn't have money for a cab.

Police in Birmingham, England, charged Matthew Hutchins, 26, with breaking into dozens of cars parked in municipal garages after identifying him from surveillance tapes. Hutchins managed to turn his face from security cameras, but his large, protruding ears were always recognizable, even when he tried to disguise them by turning up his coat collar or using a mobile telephone to cover them. "There was no mistaking him," Sgt. Steve Poppitt said, "even from the back."

Politics As Usual

Even though U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., is running unopposed in November's election, he has spent well over $1 million on his reelection campaign.

Voting to lower Kentucky's legal limit for drunk driving from 0.08 to 0.1 still didn't help state Rep. Marvin Lee "Pete" Worthington, 59. His Dodge pickup crossed the center line of a two-lane highway and rammed a car, killing the other driver and himself. Preliminary lab tests showed that Worthington, who was unopposed for a 12th term this November, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.11.

After failing several times to get elected as Thomas Weston, now the Republican candidate for Precinct 6 constable in Dallas County, Texas, is campaigning in the largely Hispanic district as Tomas Eduardo Wesson. Wesson, 42, admitted that he is not of Hispanic heritage but insisted, "That is my name. That's how I spell Thomas." Ballots for the Nov. 7 election have already been printed and cannot be changed without a court challenge. Otherwise, David Watts, executive director of the Dallas County Republican Party, noted, "If you pay your filing fee, you can file as Abraham Lincoln, and I can't stop it."

Quick Fix

Instead of changing the makeup of its student body to present an image of diversity, the University of Wisconsin at Madison simply retouched a photo used on the cover of an admissions brochure to include an African-American student. According to undergraduate admissions director Rob Seltzer, his office spent all last summer looking for a picture that showed the university had a diverse enrollment but could find none. Finally, the staff used a 1993 photo of white students at a football game and added an image taken in 1994 of senior Diallo Shabazz.

Wonderful Web

Jessica and Travis Thornhill won $5,000 for naming their baby, born in Hutchinson, Kan., after a Web site called the Internet Underground Music Archive, or at least an acronym of the site: Iuma Dylan-Lucas.

Irene Pepperberg, a visiting professor of animal behavior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is teaching a parrot how to surf the Internet. "Parrots are very social creatures," she said, explaining that owners who leave them alone all day cause boredom and stress that leads to behavioral problems. As a result, the bird-enabled software she is developing, "InterPet Explorer," will make it easier for parrots and eventually other animals to find sites of interest, such as those showing wildlife and music, or perhaps even chat rooms just for animals.

Mahloan Smith and Chad Sobotka of Medford, Ore., launched a new Web page where people can log on and watch raw meat decompose in real time. According to Time magazine, "Stinkymeat," a feature of thespark.com, received more than 3 million hits a day after its debut this summer.

Why They Call It Dope

When Robert Poshusta, 28, received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the Hamilton County, Ind., Sheriff's Department, the caller informed Poshusta that if he cut down the 8-foot-tall marijuana plant growing in his home and turned it in, he wouldn't be charged. Poshusta complied, packed the plant in a garbage bag and took it to the sheriff's department, where he was promptly arrested and charged with cultivating marijuana. Sheriff's Sgt. Eddie Moore insisted no one at the department had called Poshusta.

Touchy-Feely

The Pussycats strip club in Hove, England, applied to the local council for a variance in its license to allow blind patrons to touch performers. Kenneth McGrath, director of the club, told the Daily Telegraph he made the application after two blind men visited Pussycats as part of a stag party and said they wanted to touch the strippers to get a better idea what they looked like. Noting that 11 of the 15 dancers told him they would not object to being touched, McGrath said the touching would be "restricted to the breasts and only when the dancer is wearing a bra and not topless. The dancer would retain full control, taking one hand of the blind customer and placing it on her breasts while dancing for an agreed time."

Turn It Up!

After a city ordinance forced the band Def Leppard to play at a low volume during a concert at the Oregon State Fair in Salem, band members announced that anyone who thought the concert was too quiet could get a refund. Some 700 fans took them up on the offer.

Can't Think Any Faster Than They Run

Thirty-three runners in September's Berlin Marathon decided to take a shortcut in the 26-mile race and hopped on the subway. They forgot that they were wearing computer chips designed to record their times every 5 kilometers, however, and all were disqualified.

Swords to Plowshares

Once the pride of the Soviet Union's Pacific Fleet, the aircraft carrier Minsk has been sold to China, docked in Shenzhen and converted into an amusement park. The Associated Press reported the decks of the 20-year-old, 43,000-ton vessel are crammed with carnival attractions and souvenir booths. The torpedo compartment has been turned into an air-conditioned cinema, and the aircraft hangar features Russian female performers posing like James Bond girls while tourists ride in virtual spacecraft. There's even a shopping complex. The Minsk's only working weapons are coin-operated machine guns loaded with BB pellets, which visitors can fire at balloons. Admission costs $12.
ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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