10 worst ideas ofthe week: Sunday, June 6, 2010 

Woman sues over directions, incompatible software puts military in the dark, Big Tobacco relabels products to avoid tax, and an umpire blows a milestone with a bad call.

1. Good intentions

SF donates outdated equipment to help with Gulf spill
The details: San Francisco has donated more than 5,000 feet of oil-containment booms — long, white, absorbent barriers designed to corral oil spills on water — to aid the effort in the Gulf. The only problem is that these booms failed to work during the 2007 Cosco Busan spill in the Bay. The equipment was designed prior to the 1970s, but many government agencies who still rely on the boom technology say it’s all they’ve got.

2. Free cable car rides

Despite efforts, 40 percent of riders don’t pay
The details: After a 2007 probe revealed that four of every 10 cable car passengers weren’t being asked to pay the $5 fare, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency stepped up initiatives to improve collections. But a ­follow-up study done in December and released this week says the same thing — 40 percent are not asked to pay the fare. SFMTA says staffing problems have partly hindered cracking down on drivers who don’t collect fares, and now the organization says managers will ride the cars more frequently to make sure that $5 is being collected from every tourist, commuter and hanger-on.

3. Losing votes

Group looks to change election of U.S. senators
The details: Some tea party activists and the candidates they support are calling for repeal of the 17th Amendment, which was adopted in 1913 to allow direct popular election of United States senators. Today, most people don’t even remember that the Constitution originally had senators appointed by state legislatures — supposedly being chosen by men of high respectability. Now those wanting repeal say Senate candidates have to raise so much money to run that they become captive to special interests.

4. Watch your step

Woman follows Google’s walking route, gets hit by car
The details: You know the fine print at the bottom of aerosol containers warning you of health hazards? Well, make sure to check out the ones on websites, too. A woman who says she was injured by a motorist while following Google’s walking directions on her iPhone is suing the company for supplying unsafe directions. Lauren Rosenberg ended up walking on a busy Utah road that did not have sidewalks. However, a Google disclaimer accompanied the directions available via computer.

5. Check your GPS

Military devices rendered useless for days by software
The details: So what happens when your GPS goes out? You look at the road signs. However, when it happens to the U.S. military, it becomes a bigger issue. As many as 10,000 military GPS devices went down for days, leaving planes, weapons and other systems used by the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan in the dark. The problem was blamed on incompatible software.

6. Tobacco tax

Labeling loophole in child health law costs feds $250M
The details: A tobacco tax loophole in President Barack Obama’s children’s health insurance program cost the government more than $250 million in its first year, public health officials say. The loophole allowed companies to avoid huge tax increases on loose rolling tobacco by relabeling their product as pipe tobacco. The simple marketing twist lets companies pay a tax of $2.83 per pound, rather than the $24.78 per pound levied on rolling tobacco.

7. Bad juju

SoCal used-car dealer tries to hex prosecutors in case
The details: L.A.-area car salesman Ruben Hernandez tried to put a voodoo curse on lawyers handling his case, but he found himself headed to prison on fraud charges anyway. Hernandez was sentenced to 12 years after being convicted of using false information to buy properties. Upon a search of Hernandez’s home, authorities found some alarming artifacts: voodoo dolls dunked headfirst in cups of water, with pins sticking out of their eyes. The names of the prosecutors and investigators were written on the dolls.

8. Fancy fries

McDonald’s offers manicures as part of opening celebration
The details: The McDonald’s located in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan unveiled a new look this week, and, as part of its kickoff, offered free food. But that’s not all; Ronald McDonald’s namesake also offered free hand massages and manicures. Hands have never looked so good while clutching a Big Mac.

9. Tax time

November ballot could be wrought with additional taxes
The details: While Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed $6.48 billion spending plan this week that he says invests in jobs, protects public safety and preserves the social safety net for The City’s most vulnerable residents, taxpayers might not be out of the woods. A movement is afoot by progressive supervisors to put tens of millions of tax measures on the November ballot. The taxes are meant to offset budget woes this fiscal year and in years to come.

10. The ‘ungreen’

Annual survey ranks U.S. as least green per-capita
The details: The U.S. ranks last — again — in National Geographic’s third annual “Greendex” survey, a per-capita rating of environmental impact by people in 17 countries. India, China and Brazil are the greenest. The U.K., France and Canada are at the bottom with the U.S., which is criticized for having air conditioning, television and automobiles.

SinKing ship: U.S. brand cigarettes contain more cancer-causing chemicals than their global competitors, found a small study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey covered 126 smokers between ages 18 and 55 in five cities worldwide who smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and who were brand loyal. More than 2,000 cigarette butts were checked for tobacco-specific nitrosamines, the major cancer-causing substance in tobacco. Compared to brands in Canada and Australia, U.S. brands had nitrosamines levels three times higher.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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