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Amici Curiae: The Arizona Memorial, Kinder Surprise Fine, and Tweeting Beiber Edition

The Tucson Tragedy

On Saturday, January 8, the United States was rocked by gun violence as twenty people were shot at a political event occurring outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. Of the twenty who were shot, six – including chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Arizona, John Roll – died. The alleged target of the attack, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, remains alive but in critical condition after being shot through the head. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer.

While given the (at least temporary) cooling of political rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, there is cause for hope that some good may ultimately come of the tragedy, the lack of action on another front is troubling – U.S. gun laws.

While there have been limited examples of attempts at common sense reforms to gun laws from U.S. political leadership, there has also been an equally worrying orientation back to the curious logic underlying U.S. gun culture. Sadly, based on the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association in Washington, the trend isn’t likely to do much but continue.

It’s a peculiarly American logic that by arming everyone, by adding more weapons to a situation, individual and public safety is enhanced. As any first-year international relations student would note, perhaps citing Tucson as an example, this dangerous zero-sum game is premised on the assumption that all ‘players’ are rational actors, concerned chiefly with their own safety and recognizing the overwhelming likelihood of negative consequences should anyone find themselves with an itchy trigger finger. Unfortunately for those 2nd-Amendment champions, the stats don’t support this assertion. Was it Leonardi da Vinci who said the supreme misfortune in life is when theory outstrips performance?

Nova Scotia Cross Burner

After being convicted of inciting hatred and criminal harassment in November of this year  for burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple in Nova Scotia, Nathan Rehberg has aroused criticism this week after attaining probation after serving just four months of his six month sentence.

Although Mr. Rehberg appears to have demonstrated remorse, characterizing the incident, eerily reminiscent of Klu Klux Klan activity in the United states, as a “careless mistake,” others are note convinced that such leeway was deserved in this case.

Black Maritime Activist Burnley Jones questioned the early probation, stating, “How does that deter anyone who has these racist tendencies? … If I were [someone] wanting to express a racist opinion, right now would be the time to do it. Because right now society seems to be accepting, saying it’s no big deal.” It remains unclear how this decision will contribute to precedent on the issue.

Microsoft Fights Apple’s Trademark Claim on “App Store”

Microsoft filed a motion with the U.S. patent and Trademark Office this week challenging Apple’s application to trademark the name “App Store.” Microsoft argues that “AppStore” is “generic for retail store services featuring apps” and Apple “should not be permitted to usurp for its exclusive use.”

Given the competition between Apple and Microsoft, it is no surprise that the software giant opposes granting such exclusive rights to Apple. Apple’s app store is now offering more than 300,000 apps, while Microsoft is languishing at 6,000 apps in Marketplace.

“An ‘app store’ is an ‘app store.’ said Russel Pangborn, Microsoft’s associate general counsel, which was reported in BBC news.  “Like ’shoe store’ or ‘toy store,’ it is a generic term that is commonly used by companies, governments, and individuals that offer apps,”

Should Apple be allowed to trademark “app store”? Click here to cast your vote at the WSJ Digits blog.

Kinder Surprise Egg Takes Canadian by Surprise at the U.S. Border

The Kinder Surprise egg has been available in Canada since 1975, and is especially popular during Christmas and Easter. However, it is not so welcome south of the border. A Canadian woman, Linda Bird, was warned and nearly fined $300 after U.S. customs officials found a Kinder Surprise egg in her car. The chocolate egg is considered illegal contraband in the U.S. because the toys inside could pose choking hazard to children.

Health Canada has determined that small children do not have the manual dexterity required to open the plastic egg that holds the toy, so there is little chance the egg could harm anyone.

In 2009, more than 25,000 Kinder eggs were seized by U.S. officials. While the seizure may seem trivial, Linda Bird told CBC news that the U.S. authorities followed up with a seven-page letter asking for her formal authorization to destroy her Kinder Egg. And if Bird wishes to contest the seizure, she’ll have to pay $250 for it to be stored as the two sides fight over it.

“I was in disbelief,” she told The Star. “It’s a two-dollar egg. Why make a big fuss over it? Just throw it in the garbage.”

Clarification Needed in Twitter Endorsements

The US Federal Trade Commission, which works against “unfair and deceptive acts or practices,” has modified its code regulating celebrity endorsements and testimonials more than a year ago. Now, Britain’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has chimed in to clarify its rules regarding non-declared endorsements in blogs and on social networking sites. The OFT reported that online advertising not disclosing that they were paid-for promotions are “deceptive” under fair trading rules. “This includes comments about services and products on blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.” The crackdown comes after the OFT discovered that Handpicked Media, a public relations and marketing company in the UK, was paying bloggers to write effusively about its clients.

Celebrity Twitter endorsements are already big business in the U.S.. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who has nearly six million followers on her Twitter account, can earn thousands of pounds for a sentence that has less than 140 characters on Twitter. As a result of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the words “ad” or “spon” must be included in the Tweet when the celebrity is being paid for to tweet such products.

However, as reported in WSJ, it would be hard to discipline celebrities being paid to endorse products on Twitter. “How do you monitor Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber?” Ms. Madden, the founder of Handpicked Media told the WSJ. “They’re just uncontrollable.”

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