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News Quirks (12/3/14)

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Freedom Follies

Eight in 10 Americans believe the public should be concerned about the government's monitoring phone calls and internet communications, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. More than 90 percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they've lost control over how their personal data are collected and used by companies. But 55 percent agreed that they're willing to share some information in exchange for free online services. (Washington Post)

Carrying On

Venice is banning tourists from using roller suitcases, which officials said make too much noise being wheeled across the city's historic bridges and keep residents awake. To avoid the 500-euro ($625) fine, visitors will need suitcases with inflatable tires, although city official Maurizio Dorigo admitted they don't yet exist. He expressed hope that a company will design and sell them by next May, when the ban takes effect. (Britain's Express)

Second-Amendment Follies

Police said Dennis Eugene Emery, 57, accidentally shot himself in the face at his home in Pinellas Park, Fla. According to the report, Emery was arguing with his wife when he got a gun and threatened to shoot one of the family dogs. He pulled back the gun's hammer as if he were going to fire. He then started to release it to a safe position while pointing the gun at his face, at which point the gun discharged. (St. Petersburg Tribune)

Becca Campbell, 26, died after she accidentally shot herself in the head with a gun she bought for protection in anticipation of violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., while a grand jury decided whether to indict Michael Brown's killer. The St. Louis woman's 33-year-old boyfriend told police Campbell was jokingly waving the weapon around in his car, saying she was ready for Ferguson, when she pointed it at him. He swerved trying to duck and rear-ended another car, causing the gun to fire. (CNN)

Christa Engles, 26, died after her 3-year-old son accidentally shot her in the head with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun he found on a table in the living room, according to police in Tulsa, Okla. Child specialists who interviewed the boy "confirmed what the evidence led investigators to assume," police Sgt. Dave Walker said, noting the boy repeatedly told officers, "Mommy shot." (Tulsa World)

Tax Dollars at Work

Despite recent scandals and budget and workforce cuts at the Internal Revenue Service, commissioner John Koskinen announced the agency is awarding millions of dollars in bonuses to "long-suffering staffers," including those who're delinquent in paying their own taxes. The IRS' inspector general reported in April that 1,146 employees who had "tax compliance problems" a few years ago were handed bonuses totaling more than $1 million. "It's no wonder the American people find it hard to believe the IRS needs more money when the agency fails to collect back taxes from their own employees and instead rewards them with bonuses," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. (Washington Times)

Drone On

Student researchers from Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., have figured out a better way to measure stress in whales than chasing them with motorboats and 15-foot poles equipped with sensors. They dispatch a drone to hover directly over the animals' blowhole and collect mucus samples from the spray. The researchers tested the method by attaching a sterilized surgical sponge to the drone to harvest pseudo-snot ejected from a fake whale: a catamaran fitted with sensors that measured what a real whale would feel and hear while being followed by the drone, which the students dubbed Snot Bot. (Boston Globe)

So Long, and Thanks for All the Kimchi

South Koreans are headed for extinction by the year 2750, according to a parliamentary study commissioned by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy party. Its forecasts are based on South Korea's critically low birth rate of 1.19 children per woman, attributed to 1980s government campaigns to restrict family size. The study suggests the southern port city of Busan, which has one of the country's most rapidly aging populations, will be the first to empty after its last resident is born in 2413. (Britain's Independent)

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