Watercooler Stories – September 7, 2011 – UPI.com

Suit challenges $25 prison visit fee

PHOENIX, Sept. 7 (UPI) — An Arizona prison advocate is mounting a legal challenge against a new law charging a $25 background check fee to people who want to visit state prisons.

James Hamm of the Middle Ground Prison Reform group said he and his wife, Donna, are suing Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan over the law, which they said amounts to an unconstitutional tax and a “special law” barred by the Arizona Constitution, KTVK, Phoenix, reported Tuesday.

Hamm, who served a prison sentence of nearly 18 years beginning in 1974, said the fees, which took effect in July, are not actually being used to perform background checks, but are instead being deposited into the Department of Correction’s Building Renewal Fund.

“We’re claiming that this is a tax because it goes for the building maintenance in all the Department of Corrections and that’s a general tax expenditure,” Hamm said.

A Department of Corrections representative told The New York Times the funds are being used for maintenance because “funds for our buildings are scarce in this difficult economic time. A $25 visitation fee helps to ensure our prisons remain safe environments for staff, inmates and visitors.”


Researchers seek Vivian Vance‘s ghost

STAMFORD, Conn., Sept. 7 (UPI) — A team of paranormal researchers said they are trying to determine whether the ghost of comic actress Vivian Vance is haunting her former home in Connecticut.

Members of the Norwalk (Conn.) Paranormal Research Group said the current owner of the Stamford home, Melissa Leigh, asked them to investigate reports of ghosts in the house and determine whether any of them belong to Vance, who was best known Ethel Mertz, Lucille Ball’s sidekick on 1950s sitcom “I Love Lucy,” the Stamford Advocate reported Tuesday.

Vance sold the house in the 1960s and moved to California, where she died in 1979 at age 70.

Phil Peluso, a member of the research group who knew Leigh in high school, said the group is using video cameras, laser grids and electromagnetic field detectors in an attempt to locate spirits haunting the home.

“It’s kind of to bring back history with a fresh perspective,” Peluso said of paranormal investigation. “Because a lot of people drive by those places and never know anything about them.”

Leigh said she believes there is a male ghost living in the home who may be her late father — and her roommate, Chris, has recently sensed a female spirit in the house that may or may not be the ghost of Vance.


Canada psychic says may take $1M challenge

TORONTO, Sept. 7 (UPI) — Canadian psychic said Tuesday she may accept a skeptic organization’s $1 million challenge to test her powers once she gets more information about it.

Psychic Nikki of Toronto told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. she wasn’t avoiding James Randi, a magician and paranormal powers skeptic who founded the James Randi Educational Foundation. Randi issued a statement Tuesday saying a message had been left for the Canadian psychic, who goes by the single name, on Friday and the foundation hadn’t heard back from her.

She said she would get in touch with the foundation within a couple of days.

“I’m not refusing to take his test at all,” she said.

“I’m very curious about this test and I would like to take it but I have to know if I’m available to go, I have to know a little more about it and then I can talk to him about it,” she said.

Randi’s statement noted Nikki has been available for interviews but hadn’t gotten in touch with the foundation.

“If it’s true that you have faith in your own abilities, follow through and take us up on our challenge,” he said. “I hope that you do follow through, and aren’t just misleading the media to get your name in the news.”

The institute has issued the same $1 million challenge to other celebrity psychics, including James Van Praagh and Allison DuBois, the CBC said.

Randi said the challenges are designed to test specific claims by each psychic.


Coffee shop erroneously ‘closed’ on Google

HAYS, Kan., Sept. 7 (UPI) — A Kansas coffee shop owner said he was shocked to learn his business was listed as “permanently closed” on Google Places, the online giant’s Yellow Pages.

Jason Rule, owner of the Coffee Rules Lounge in Hays, said he was baffled when he learned the shop was listed as “permanently closed” on Google despite operating the same hours as usual, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Rule said the erroneous listing remained for several days.

Google said its system allows users to “report a problem,” and one of the options it gives is “this place is permanently closed.” If enough users label a business closed, it is listed as “reportedly closed” until a review process, which Google did not disclose, declares it “permanently closed.”

“We’re not far from Interstate 70,” Rule said, “and I have no doubt that a lot of people running up and down that highway just skipped us.”

Experts said “closing” a business on Google has become a common tactic for competitors.

“I’d say that it was in June that we started to see a big uptick in complaints about this in online forums,” said Linda Buquet of Catalyst eMarketing in San Marcos, Calif. “It might be that a number of consultants are now offering services like ‘nuke your competitor’ in Google Places. But it could just be a competitor, acting alone.”

Google said it is aware of the problem and is working on changes to its system to prevent future incidents.

Watercooler Stories – September 7, 2011 – UPI.com.

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