Friday Links

In July of 1948, Walt Disney Productions released “The Trial of Donald Duck,” a short in which Donald, our hero, faces the legal system.  Here’s how the Internet Movie Database summarizes the plot of this criminal prosecution, truly the trial of the century:

Donald is caught in the rain while eating his lunch. He ducks into a restaurant for a cup of coffee, but Chez Pierre is a very ritzy place, and by the time all is said and done, he’s facing a bill for $35.99, and he only got a drop of coffee, and he only has a nickel. Pierre takes him to court, where this story is told, and is ordered to pay $10 or wash dishes for ten days.

Directed by Jack King, with a story by Dan MacManus, the story is a fun one which, of course, doesn’t accurately depict the legal process. But who would expect it to? Our favorite legal mistake: Donald’s lawyer, apparently unaware of the burden of proof, offers to prove to the court that his client is innocent.  Further, he doesn’t even request a jury trial. Best part:  You can watch the six minute short here on YouTube!

About a month ago, we ran a piece asking the question, “Is Music on Vinyl Better?“  Fellow lawyer and friend of the blog Matt J. writes in to respond to our conclusion that compact discs may, in fact, offer the better listening experience:

I don’t know whether vinyl or CD is superior.  I’ve always had the belief that people think vinyl is better, because they listened to vinyl on non-portable devices and, therefore, on potentially superior equipment. That’s the case with me.  When I bought The Uplift Mofo Party Plan on LP and killed a party with my NAD amp, Genesis speakers, and Sony turntable, it was 10x the experience of listening to the copy I ripped (at the highest bit rate I could) from CD and listen to on my iPod and pretty good Sennheiser in-ear headphones. I’m still convinced it’s not the vinyl v. CD that matters, but how you listen.

Remember back in October when we published a piece on bath salts? This new drug continues to be in the news, and this week, Natasha Vargas-Cooper at Spin magazine offers a lengthy investigative piece on the history of the drug and the war against it.

The Virtue and Vice of Malware: A Prediction

I’m frustrated. There is so much cool stuff happening in the world right now, and almost none of it involves the law. Let me preach on it.

As I was looking for inspiration for this week’s post, I came across a fascinating website: www.phys.org. It’s a newsfeed for breaking information on the advancement of scientific knowledge. Now, because I’m a nerd, I love science-y things. However, in the interest of fair disclosure and embarrassing myself, I must admit that most of my scientific knowledge—at least these days—comes mainly from two sources. One of those sources is Morgan Freeman, courtesy of his show TV show, “Through the Wormhole.” The other is Dr. Sheldon Cooper, courtesy of his TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” You may now color me ashamed.

Phys.org is a great resource because it not only posts information about real scientific achievement, but more importantly, it’s written in such a way that even a scientific tyro like myself can understand the significance of the work that’s being done. Which is an incredible achievement in its own right. Let me give you a taste of its content. As I’m writing this post, the articles on Phys.org include “Scientists watch proteins self-assemble,” “Revealed: Secret of HIV’s natural born killers,” and “Nanotechnologists develop a ‘time bomb’ to fight cardiovascular disease.” Wow. And those are a selection of articles from just today. So like I said, in the scientific world, there are brilliant, beautiful minds making significant contributions in furtherance of alleviating the human condition. And that is truly inspiring.

And then there’s the law. Regrettably, it seems that the only interesting thing happening in my world is that Zach Morris just started Season 2 of “Franklin & Bash.” So take that, science.

Anyway, there’s one story trending right now in the scientific world which is not only utterly fascinating, but also has real-world implications for the law, litigation, and the integrity of the judicial process. You may recall that last year, the Republic of Iran discovered that its nuclear weapons facilities had been infiltrated by “Stuxnet.” Stuxnet is computer malware designed to subvert industrial systems, particularly, certain data systems that control and monitor uranium enrichment infrastructure. Essentially, Stuxnet was destroying Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium, which is necessary for developing nuclear weapons, all while reporting that everything was a-ok.

And it had been doing this for years.

I don’t care who you are. That’s really, really cool.

No one’s really sure who conjured up Stuxnet. But whoever did it decided that the only thing better than planting one insanely complex malware application with the Iranians was planting three of them. Stuxnet was followed up by Duqu, awesomely named after a dark Jedi master from the Star Wars universe. Whereas Stuxnet thwarted industrial processes, Duqu captured data—such as keystrokes—and secretly transmitted it back to whatever third party was listening.

Then, at the beginning of June, the world learned about Flame, yet a third malware application targeting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Flame was Duqu’s more aggressive younger brother. Like Duqu, Flame was designed to collect and transmit data about Iran’s industrial processes, but was apparently also able to collect a vast amount of electronically stored information, such as email and voice messages. Then, once Flame was discovered, a “suicide” command was sent out which caused Flame to not only erase itself from every computer it had attached itself to, it also bombed those computers in such a way as to make impossible any forensic analysis about what data was transmitted and to whom it was sent.

If you’re not impressed by any of this, then you need to stop reading this blog immediately and check your pulse, because you are, in fact, clinically dead.

The folks who are reporting about the awesome triumvirate of Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame insist that, due to their level of sophistication (and the expense associated with development and deployment), only a government would have the resources to craft such powerful cyber-weapons. And that’s probably true. But there’s two things to keep in mind. First, in our technologically empowered world, both the virtue and vice of cybernetics are the relatively low barriers to entry. Theoretically, anyone with a talent for programming and access to a computer can play the game. Second, the circumstance with Iran provides proof of concept for what malware like Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame can do.

Now let’s bring that malware to the legal world. The implications are alarming. Although the resources necessary to craft Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame were significant, we must anticipate that the cost to reproduce them will be substantially cheaper. Indisputably, there’s tremendous incentive to use these types of malware in civilian contexts. The information that could be covertly discovered would be invaluable. Maybe it comes in the form of corporate espionage between business competitors. Maybe it comes in the form of law firms, locked in contentious, high-stakes litigation, trying to discover information in another’s possession that would otherwise be protected from disclosure by privilege. Maybe it comes in the form of a litigant with a case pending before the Supreme Court, anxious to learn about the course of discussions among Justices and what decision may ultimately be issued. The possibilities are endless, but the market value of the inside information is undeniable.

Historically, the disincentive to attempting such espionage has been the risk of capture. As you might expect, the law frowns upon the use of electronic means to commit fraud, and usually rewards such efforts with the imposition of stiff fines and a lengthy stay in one of the nation’s finest federal penitentiaries. I hear Atlanta has a nice SuperMax.

But bear Flame in mind. Once discovered, a suicide command was executed that erased—permanently—any ability to trace its fingerprints. This sets up the possibility that the integrity of a corporation’s or government’s confidential information could be stolen, and there would be no way to track down the identity of the thief. It’s the perfect crime, in the sense that the perpetrator could get away scot-free.

Oh, well. Like I said, lots of cool stuff happening in the world. In the meantime, me and Zach Morris will be keeping it real down in the legal trenches. I’ll be the one fighting for truth and justice. He’ll be the one with hair.

Sixth Circuit: Duty to Warn Limited to Risks Known – By Somebody

Generally, manufacturers have a duty to warn users about non-obvious, known dangers.  But, what steps must a manufacturer take to discover potential hazards?  The legal standard is for manufacturers to warn of dangers that could have reasonably been discovered.  Obviously, this alleviates the duty to discover a soothsayer in a distant land prophesying about the inherent dangers of a product.  But, what about sources that are more apparent, like medical journals?  Recently, the Sixth Circuit tackled this very issue. In Rodriguez v. Stryker Corp., No. 11-5335 (6th Cir. May 21, 2012), the Sixth Circuit held that a pain pump manufacturer did not have a duty to warn of a danger based on 13 articles published at various times in the 70 years before the pump was used.  In 2008, the plaintiff discovered that he had developed chondrolysis, a condition which left him with no cartilage in his shoulder.  According to the plaintiff, he developed the condition after using a pain-pump manufactured by Stryker Corporation to infuse his shoulder with an anesthetic known as bupivicaine for two-days following a 2004 surgery.

How could the plaintiff make such a claim?  Digging up articles from 1933 medical journals, that’s how.

The plaintiff did not claim Styker had actual knowledge in 2004 that the pump could cause chondrolysis.  After all, the first reported case of chondrolysis linked to anesthetics didn’t pop up until 2005.  Rather, the plaintiff alleged that Stryker should have known of the dangers based on 13 articles that “document [ ] significant damage to articular cartilage after prolonged exposure to foreign solutions.”

As the Court noted, the plaintiff’s argument is a stretch given what the articles say.

For example, the plaintiff produced one article from 1933 that shows injecting rabbits with water and saline solutions over a period of weeks produces chronic arthritis.  Four other articles are used to link chondrolysis to dyes and antiseptics – not anesthetics.  Three articles discuss the use of bupivicaine within a joint, but none of which say bupivicaine is unsafe.  One article from 2004 did describe a patient who developed chondrolysis after using a pain pump with bupivicaine, but that article offered no conclusions linking chondrolysis to pain pumps.  When looking at the articles in total, the Court stated:

[N]ot one of Rodriguez’s thirteen articles shows that medical experts understood in 2004 that infusing a joint with bupivicaine for two days could cause irreversible cartilage damage.  Stryker had no duty to understand what the relevant medical literature did not.

We here at Abnormal Use must applaud the Sixth Circuit for its holding.  To be clear, the holding does not imply that manufacturers have no duty to discover relevant medical literature.  Rather, they do not have a duty to piece together articles over several decades to make medical conclusions that the literature has not made.  Medical literature has plenty of value and should be reviewed.  The most-respected researchers in any field are cautious about drawing conclusions. Why should we impose a duty on manufacturers to jump to conclusions the researchers haven’t made?  Manufacturers should not be expected to have a heightened level of understanding beyond that of the medical research. A manufacturer’s duty to warn is limited to risks that are known – by somebody.  As long as that somebody isn’t the mountaintop oracle of a foreign land.

Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” Leaves Much To Be Desired (Legally, Anyway)

As you know, we here at Abnormal Use love to write about the intermingling of music and the law.  Well, some of us, anyway.  Aside from our interview with singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky and a satirical review of a legal themed concept album, you won’t catch me writing anything music related.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy music.  I do.  I just fail to see the excitement of legal references in popular music.

While traveling to a deposition recently,  the song “Cocaine Blues” (written by others but performed and made famous by Johnny Cash) came on the radio, and I realized right then why writing about legal music is not my forte.  The writers of pop music butcher our legal system worse than television’s David E. Kelley.  ”Cocaine Blues” is about a man who becomes high on cocaine and shoots his wife after discovering she had committed adultery.  This is not unusual subject matter for an outlaw country song.  Where the song falters legally, however, is the song’s portrayal of the repercussions of the man’s illegal actions.

The morning after committing the crime, the man flees to Mexico.  Shortly after his arrival, he is apprehended by his hometown sheriff. He then freely confesses to his crime.  Thereafter, the man is immediately transported back to the United States.  Because the song was written by Red Arnall in 1947, it would be another 20 years before Miranda rights became an issue.  But, how does a sheriff from Jericho Hill so easily avoid any extradition procedures?  I doubt the Mexican government had an open door policy for small town American police departments.

For the sake of musicality, I can forgive the logistical problems of the man’s extradition.  What happens next, however, is indefensible.  The following morning, a mere three days after the crime, the man is up for trial!  Criminal defendants are entitled to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment, but even our founding fathers are asking for a reprieve with this one.  No indictment?  No discovery?  Don’t expect the prosecutor to be trying this one on the merits.  Whatever the case presented, the jury was convinced.  After a five minute deliberation, the jury found the man guilty of first degree murder.

The verdict itself is a bit of a misnomer.  The lyrics do not give us any evidence of the premeditation necessary for first degree murder.  I am sure the man’s lawyer – if he even had one – attempted to portray the murder as a crime of passion.  His wife was cheating on him with five guys after all.  We just do not know if he caught her in the act.  Simply put, the song lacks too many details to make an appropriate legal analysis.

It is difficult for any songwriter to cram enough detail into a three minute song to satisfy a lawyer.  I can’t appreciate the lyrics and the melody if I have to check a hornbook to validate the song’s accuracy.  With that said, Johnny Cash remains one of my favorites.  He was arrested and detained enough times to have some credibility when singing about prisons.  Just don’t expect to see me writing about it – again.

Television Channels, Robots, and Product Usage

I have a love/hate relationship with TV.  At any given moment, I can stream hundreds of channels into my home, and technologically speaking, that’s really cool.  That’s the part I love.  But good luck trying to find just one channel at any given time that has anything remotely worth watching.  I dare you.

No luck?  Of course not.  It can’t be done.  And that’s the part I hate.

Between my wife and me, there are less than a dozen channels that we ever watch.  If we could just pay for those channels and slough off the rest, our monthly cable bill would be about $1.75.  But no.  To get cable service, we have to buy the “bundle” of channels that no one—absolutely no one—wants to watch under any circumstances.  Someday, I would love to name some of the worst offending channels, because let’s face it, they deserve to be ostracized.

Anyway, there’s a day coming—I’m convinced—when bundling will be given the unceremonious death it so righteously deserves.  Television channels will be purchased a la carte, and individual subscribers will be able to customize their home entertainment options.  This business of force-feeding the TV-watching public content that they don’t want is dying, and in my opinion, that death can’t come swiftly enough.

In the mean time, I’m exploring other options for home entertainment.  Option 1: Cancel TV altogether and read more.  Option 2: Replace cable with a combination of Netflix and Hulu.  Guess which one is far and away the clear front-runner. Which brings me to the set up of this post.  The other day, I’m scrolling through Netflix trying to find something to watch.  One of the categories Netflix presented me with was “Underdog Movies.”

I’ve always loved Underdog, so I took a look-see.  As you might expect, there were all sorts of movies where the protagonist battles against overwhelming odds to succeed, which he ultimately does.  And that’s when something caught my eye.  By happenstance, Netflix had positioned 2 unlikely moves—whose underdog status is questionable at best—next to each other: The Terminator and Short Circuit.

Maybe you’ve never heard of Short Circuit.  It’s a loveable movie from the mid-1980s starring Steve Guttenberg (from Police Academy) and Johnny 5, a military robot who gets struck by lightening, becomes self-aware, and decides that it doesn’t want to spend its existence as a weapon.  The Terminator needs no introduction.

There are significant differences between these films.  Most notably, whereas The Terminator is a violent story of machines rising up against humanity, Short Circuit is a heart-warming story of humanity fighting for the right of a machine to live its life in peaceful co-existence.  However, there’s a subtle, underlying common thread.  In both films, artificial robotic intelligence acquires true consciousness, and then, based on the way that the machine is treated, it determines whether its relationship with humanity will be peaceful or contentious.

For example, in The Terminator, it is explained that Skynet (the artificial intelligence that became self-aware) determined that humanity was a threat to its existence, and therefore, that humanity must be extinguished as a matter of self-preservation.  By contrast, in Short Circuit, Johnny 5 learns about the beauty of life and the finality of death, and is assisted by his human creators to live freely.

Now let’s bring the point home.  Here at Abnormal Use, we’ve taken the name of our publication from the legal principle that damages caused by unforeseen, unforeseeable uses of products are not compensable; that if the use of the product was abnormal, the manufacturer cannot be held liable for any injuries that may result.  And to be sure, plenty of abnormal product use goes on.

But that’s not the only way that products cause injuries.  Sometimes they cause injuries because they’re used in the right way, but they’re just used too much for too long.  The wear and tear causes the product to break down.  It’s not the manufacturer that’s liable for the product’s failure to perform, and it’s not the designer’s fault.  It’s our own fault for thinking that products—the things we use to make our lives easier—can serve us indestructibly no matter how much we use or abuse them. Everything has its limit.  And ultimately, it’s our choice whether we respect the limitations of the products we use, or whether we exceed them.  If we choose the former, then we can live in peaceful productivity with our products for the duration of their usefulness.  If we choose the latter, then we’re inviting the chips to fall where they may.

Friday Links

“You’d better come along,” the policeman instructs Archie on the cover of Archie #114, published way, way back in 1960. Obviously, this scene takes place before some important Warren Court jurisprudence, but we can’t help but wonder what Archie did to earn the attention of local law enforcement. (By the way, back in July 2011, we showed you Archie’s encounter with civil litigation.).

Friend of the blog Maxwell S. Kennerly of the Litigation & Trial blog has a piece entitled “The Legal Ethics of Going On A Date With Opposing Counsel.” How about that? Says he: “I’m not in the business of giving out relationship advice, but I can give a handful of pointers relating to protocol in the legal world.” Check it out.

Well, you knew it wouldn’t be long before we returned to the topic of My Cousin Vinny, that movie of movies. In an interview with Will Harris of The Onion AV Club, Bruce McGill, the actor who played Sheriff Farley in My Cousin Vinny, shares some memories of that role.  Published earlier this week, the piece includes these thoughts from McGill:

BM: Well, I think that was just [casting director] David Rubin. I just went in and read, and I think I read really well, but I think David Rubin is one of the great casting directors. He was an assistant at that time, but I just think he’s a wonderful casting director and one of the best readers with you, which makes a difference. When you go in and the casting director reads with you, if they can’t read and they’re not a very good actor, the scene suffers, obviously. But I think I got the part from the read with David Rubin, but the first thing Joe Pesci said—and I knew Joe from New York, and I see Joe a lot out here on the golf course—and in a very Godfather-ly manner, “Yeah, y’know, I approved you for that role.” [Laughs.] I said, “Oh, thank you, Godfather, thank you!” I’m sure he did, and I’m glad he did.

But, you know, it’s not any one thing. There’s a cumulative effect to getting good parts as a freelance actor, because you’re only as good as your last job, and you have to keep going out and getting them. Unless you’re part of the finance structure, by which I mean a bankable star, which I never was and never will be. That’s why actors who might not be such great actors but are bankable will have a great career. But mine is different. I’ve got to sell myself every time. And I embrace that gladly now. I didn’t always. There was a period of time where I thought, “This is irritating. I’ve done 70 movies. Why won’t you just give me the job or don’t give me the job?”

Then I ran across the following phrase: “There are two kinds of people in the world: the very, very wealthy and salesmen.” And I knew I was not in the former camp, so instead of looking at auditions as what I used to call “grovels.” I used to say, “Oh, I can’t play golf, I’ve got a 2 o’clock grovel.” I really did! And even when I said it, I’d say, “That’s not a really good attitude.” So then I ran across that phrase about the two kinds of people, it happened instantly. [Snaps fingers.] In the blink of an eye and the passing of a thought, I went from calling them “grovels” to looking at them as sales opportunities, as if I were selling wrenches. And I would go to a buyer and say, “These are my wrenches. They’re the very best wrenches for your job. Here they are, and here’s the price.” So I began to look at auditions like that, and I’ve never had a problem with it again.

Of course, I don’t audition for things I’m not interested in doing. I don’t have to do that anymore. And now I’ll still go and meet and… Actually, agents think you should not read, that you should just go and meet and discuss what you would do. And I don’t think so. I mean, it depends, but time and time again, I think that if you’re a good actor and you prepare well and you can audition well, you should. Because you may knock somebody else out of the box just by being better in the room.

You’ll recall that back in March we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the release of My Cousin Vinny and featured interviews with the director, the writer, and several members of the cast. We had actually requested an interview with Mr. McGill, through his representation, to no avail.  Alas.

The Trouble with Dogs

When I was a kid, my family owned a basset hound named “Trouble.”  He was a dog’s dog; he chased cats and dug up our neighbor’s flowers.  We loved him.  One day, he came home with a bullet hole in his floppy ear.  Perhaps he got a little too friendly with the cats?  Maybe he trampled too many tulips?  Whatever the case, someone did not love Trouble the way we did.

Sometime later, my dad, a dentist in our small hometown, received a visit from the local sheriff, also one of his patients.  The sheriff said our neighbor had sworn out a warrant for my dad’s arrest for disturbing the peace.  Trouble was in trouble!  The choice was simple: fence in the backyard or take Trouble back to his previous owner, a country farmer.  My dad refused to fence him in, and that weekend, we all piled into the yellow, wood-paneled station wagon to take Trouble to the country where he could roam freely, and be a dog.

Do you own a dog?  If so, watch out!  While Trouble was never accused of biting anyone, it has recently been reported by USA Today that dog bites accounted for more than a third of homeowners’ liability insurance claims in 2011.  The cost?  Nearly $470 million.  According to the report, the cost of dog bite claims has risen 48 percent since 2003.  These statistics are probably the result of increased dog ownership, living closer to one another, and parents of children more likely to seek advanced medical care for their children after a bite.  According to this same article, the United States has 78.2 million dogs, or one dog for every four people in this country.  If you own what is referred to as a “vicious” dog, you should read your insurance policy, as there is probably an exclusion for the ownership of such dogs.  Many insurers exclude coverage for claims arising out of the ownership of particular dogs, including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Doberman Pinschers, and Chow-Chows.

Under South Carolina law, the owner of a dog, and the person having a dog in his care or keeping, are strictly liable for damages suffered by a person who is bitten or attacked by a dog.  S.C. Code § 47-3-110.  The statute also provides that if a person “provokes a dog into attacking him, then the owner of the dog is not liable.”

By the way, Title 47 is titled “Animals, Livestock and Poultry.”  This section includes the definition of “dog” and “cat,” along with the penalty for allowing dogs or cats to “run at large.”  You will also find prohibitions for the keeping of sheep-killing dogs, the disposal of feral dogs, allowable methods of euthanasia, and penalties for taunting, tormenting or teasing a police dog or horse.

If you do get sued, it’s probably best if your basset hound is not named “Trouble.”

Fruit Roll-Up Lawsuit Rolls On and On and On

A federal judge in California has refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that General Mills, Inc. was misleading consumers about the healthiness and fruit content of its ‘Fruit Roll-Ups’ and ‘Fruit by the Foot’ product lines. A California woman, Annie Lam, sued the on grounds that a “reasonable consumer” might be confused by the products’ actual fruit content.

Lam alleged that the marketing claim “made with real fruit” incorrectly described the fruit snacks’ true ingredients.  She is, of course, wrong, because the products do actually contain real fruit.  A quick flip to the back of the product reveals that it contains “pears from concentrate.”  It may not be the fruit she wants, but technically, it is “real fruit.”  We here at Abnormal Use understand the vexing frustration of having to flip a box over and read the ingredient list, but give us a break on the federal court litigation, okay?

Judge Samuel Conti, however, clearly disagrees with us.  In his decision, he held that the packaging statements “might lead a reasonable consumer to believe that [the] product is made with real strawberries, not pears from concentrate.  The names ‘Fruit Roll-Ups’ and ‘Fruit by the Foot,’ along with the fanciful depiction of these products, which resemble fruit leather, may lead to further confusion about the Fruit Snacks’ ingredients.”

The suit, which now seeks class-action status, was filed with the aid of the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Although there may be a time and place for pursuing companies that are trying to pull a fast one on the general public, we must be honest and say that we don’t feel much sympathy when there’s a plainly visible nutrition and ingredient label on the side of the package.  In fact, those labels are required to be by law.   Furthermore, let’s be real here . . . who in their right minds believes that Fruit Roll-Up is healthy (or, at least, as healthy as “real fruit”)?

 

Iran v. Google, Inc. – Seriously.

Uh oh. Google may have inadvertently placed itself within the cross-hairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  According to reports, Iran is threatening to sue Google over its labeling, or lack therof, of a body of water on Google Maps.  No, seriously.  Iran claims it will sue Google if the search engine giant does not re-label the gulf between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula known as the “Persian Gulf.”  It must be fun to be Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker.  “Hey, Kent . . . the Foreign Minster of Iran is on line 2.” How does law school prepare you for that telephone call?

The name of the body of water in dispute has long been a point of contention in the Middle East.   It is known by many names: the “Persian Gulf,” the “Arabian Gulf,” the “Islamic Gulf,” the “Arabo-Persian Gulf” and sometimes, simply, “The Gulf.”  In its mapping services, Google previously listed two names for the body of water: the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Gulf.  But it recently made a change. In what was meant to be a peace-keeping move in the naming dispute, Google removed both names from Google Maps earlier this month. Apparently, that didn’t do the trick and resolve the dispute.

Iran (formerly known as Persia) is a wee bit obsessed with this naming issue.  It previously threatened to ban airlines from using its airspace unless they refered to the body of water exclusively as the “Persian Gulf.”  Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told the Associated Press that “Google had better fix things or the company will be hit with ‘serious damages’.”

A mighty strange issue, this naming dispute. But this kerfuffle is not the first time that Google has gone head to head with foreign countries. See also, China.  Then again, this stand-off is so funny that we suspect – at least somewhat – that it could be some type of publicity stunt by Sacha Baron Cohen in support of his new movie The Dictator. Hey, that could be true, right? Well, maybe.

Phantom Vibration Syndrome: Yes, It’s a Thing, Maybe

So get this. I’m sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, my left leg starts twitching. Which is no big deal, really. I keep my cell phone in my front left pants pocket, and it’s almost always set to vibrate. And so, when my leg twitches, it has historically meant that I’m getting a phone call or text. I instinctively reached for my phone. And that is precisely the moment when I realized something was amiss. My phone wasn’t there. Despite the fact that my physical senses told me—without the shadow of a doubt—that my phone was in my pocket vibrating away, in reality, my phone was sitting on top of my desk, right in front of me, decidedly not in my pocket, and it was not ringing.

My first reaction was not one of scientific curiosity. I did not ponder the implications—physiological, psychological, perhaps even emotional—of this new, strange attachment that my left thigh had developed toward an inanimate object. Instead, I bowed my head in frustration and shame. My body never seems to get anything right. When I was growing up in East Tennessee, it was important to be good at sports. Unfortunately, my body interpreted the word “important” to mean “be as incompetent as possible.” The concept of hand/eye coordination eluded me the same way that the concept of an earth that revolved around sun eluded the medieval church. Not to be outdone by my eyes and arms, my knees have since decided that they will be largely ineffective in running long distances or handling downhill hikes. Now, it seems, one of my large muscle groups has developed an unnatural, metaphysical relationship with my iPhone. In my estimation, this was just another let-down in a long chain of body-related disappointments.

I’ve tried looking on the bright side. But I don’t think there is one. It would be one thing if my leg twitched only when my cell phone was actually vibrating. That would basically set my quad up to be a remote early warning detection device for a ringing phone, which I could at least pass off as a cool party trick. But, no. My leg wanted to develop a super-power so irrelevant that not even the local news would care.

And while I’m making embarrassing confessions, I’ve got a really bad habit about using the Internet to solve  unanswered questions I may have about anything. Usually, this is an awful idea, like when you’re sick and you Google your symptoms only to discover that you’ve developed typhoid, or alternatively, when you have Typhoid and you Google your disease only to find out that you can only catch typhoid if you’ve forded a river in a covered wagon and you’ve also just lost several of your oxen:

Regardless, I Googled my symptoms anyway. To my shock and chagrin, not only have other people experienced the same phenomenon, there’s a name for it: Phantom Vibration Syndrome. A fair number of people—ostensibly just as defective as I am—have reported the same circumstance where they believe they’re receiving an incoming call, feel their phone vibrating, and realize their phone is nowhere on them. And it’s a syndrome. Then I began to wonder if anyone has exploited this, say, through class action litigation, and if so, how do I get a piece of that pie??

The short answer: it looks like there’s no litigation out there. Sad. I guess it only makes sense when you think about it. There’s no physical damages. And to the extent there could be, I kinda brought it on myself. But who knows? Maybe there is a potential threat of litigation against cell phone manufacturers based on this phantom physical experience. And while I do believe such a suit would be ultimately unsuccessful, as everyone knows, there’s a lot of litigation to be done before the case would be kicked out of court.

In the mean time, I guess I’ll just continue to live with myself, biding my time til the next opportunity for my body to come up with some weirdo excuse for being lame.