Pastor John Renken's Xtreme Ministries of Memphis, Tenn., is one of a supposedly growing number of churches that use "mixed martial arts" events to recruit wayward young men to the Christian gospel. Typically, after leading his flock in solemn prayer to a loving God, Pastor Renken adjourns the session to the back room, where a New York Times reporter found him in February shouting encouragement to his violent parishioners: "Hard punches!" Renken yelled. "Finish the fight! To the head! To the head!" One participant told the Times that fight nights bring a greater masculinity to religion, which he said had, in recent years, gone soft.
-- Over-Connecting the Dots: At age 8, Mike Hicks is a frequent air traveler with his mother, and while she is seldom noticed by airport screeners, "Mikey" almost always is because he shares a name with someone on the enhanced-security list that is one level below "no fly" (one of 1,600 such Michael Hickses in the U.S.). His mom told The New York Times in January that Mikey has been patted down by security since he was 2. (But sometimes government under-connects the dots. Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley's January arrest and February indictment for allegedly sexually molesting 103 children came only after he was cleared in two police investigations in three years, involving eight complaints, and despite one ex-colleague's routinely referring to Dr. Bradley as a "pedophile.")
-- Better Late Than Never? (1) Ten days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly brought down the Christmas Day airliner over Detroit, the State Department officially revoked his visa. (2) Eight days after the Christmas Eve demolition of Minneapolis' historic Fjelde House (as a fire hazard), the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission awarded the site "interim protection" for its historic value.
-- Too Much Diversity: (1) In January, the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division posted a job announcement supposedly in line with current affirmative-action policy. The division is seeking "experienced attorneys" and was encouraging "qualified applicants with targeted disabilities" to apply. Legally protected "targeted disabilities" include the traditional, such as blindness, but also "mental retardation." (2) In February, aspirants for taxicab licenses in Portsmouth, England, were officially informed by the City Council that application forms are available in other languages or in "audio," "large print" or "Braille."
-- When "You Lie!" Doesn't Quite Capture the Moment: Legislator Abel LeBlanc was suspended from Canada's New Brunswick Assembly in February for giving middle-finger salutes to two colleagues, calling one a "punk" and declaring himself ready to "walk outside with any one of yas here." "Don't ever laugh at me," he continued. "Yes, I gave you that (the finger). And I'll give you that again. And (to another colleague) I'll give you this (finger) if you want to go outside."
Just after Christmas, the Anglican Church of St. Peter in Great Limber, England, unveiled artist Adam Sheldon's 6-foot-high representation of the crucifixion consisting of 153 pieces of toast. Sheldon browned the bread himself, then painstakingly either scraped (to lighten) or torched (to darken) each piece to fashion the tableau.
-- They Don't Make Cops Like They Used To: Sheriff's deputy John Franklin of San Luis Obispo, Calif., filed a lawsuit in December against the Catholic Church and former priest Geronimo Cuevas for the "emotional trauma" he suffered by being propositioned for sex while working undercover in 2007. Deputy Franklin was patrolling a public park near Avila Beach when Father Cuevas reached out and touched Franklin's clothed genital area. Cuevas was arrested and convicted, but Deputy Franklin said he is not yet over the feelings of "anger, rage, disgust and embarrassment."
-- Chutzpah: Former Stoughton, Mass., police sergeant David Cohen was convicted in 2007 of attempted extortion and witness-tampering and sentenced to 30 months in jail. In November 2009, he filed a formal demand for payment of at least $113,000 he said the department owes him for unused vacation, sick leave and comp time. He also claims extra pay because, while still on the job, he had to spend 481 hours in court and 280 hours preparing in order to defend himself against the criminal charges.
Arrested in January in Memphis, Tenn., and charged with having carnal knowledge of an underage girl: Mr. Knowledge Clark, 29. Arrested in January in Hellertown, Pa., and charged with cashing a stolen check: Richard Fluck, 47, and Bryan Flok, 47. Arrested in Denver in February and charged with using another person's driver's license as identification: Mr. Robin J. Hood, 34. Arrested in Kingston, Pa., in January and charged with cocaine trafficking: Carlos Laurel, 30, and Andre Hardy, 39. Arrested in February in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., and charged with possession of crystal meth: Crystal Beth Williams, 21.
(1) Victim Debra Wilson testified that she had been driven nearly into bankruptcy by loan shark Robert Reynolds, 39, who extorted over time the equivalent of about $135,000. In December, Reynolds was convicted in Durham Crown Court but ordered to repay only the equivalent of about $2,300. (However, the judge warned that if Reynolds failed to pay, he could be jailed for up to 35 days!) (2) In September 2008, veteran criminal Waled Salem and two partners were discovered burglarizing the home of businessman Munir Hussain. Salem, wielding a knife, restrained Hussain, his wife, and children and resumed the ransacking. Hussain freed himself and chased the men away, catching up only with Salem, whom he then beat with a cricket bat. In December 2009 in Reading Crown Court, Salem was sentenced to probation, but Hussain got 30 months in jail for assault.
Colt Heltsley, 20, had been spotted by police in 2008 at the Preble County (Ohio) Fair, "looking around, acting nervous" in the area of a row of portable toilets and in one 30-minute sequence continually moving empty toilets until they were close together. He was eventually convicted of voyeurism, peeping at a female using the facility. In December 2009, a state appeals court rejected Heltsley's defense that police had violated his right to privacy with their surveillance.
Elderly drivers' recent lapses of concentration, accidentally confusing the brake pedal with the gas: An 89-year-old man crashed through the front of Sussex Eyecare opticians in Seaford, England (June). A driver "in her late 80s" crashed into the Buttonwood Bakery in Hanover Township, Pa. (September). An 86-year-old man crashed into the Country Boy Family Restaurant in Dunedin, Fla. (October). An 82-year-old man crashed into the Egypt Star Bakery in Whitehall Township, Pa. (November). A 78-year-old woman drove off of a 30-foot cliff (but the car's plunge was halted when it lodged against a tree) near Hannibal, Mo. (August). A 92-year-old man crashed into the Biscuits 'N' Gravy and More restaurant in Port Orange, Fla. (January) (but was not deterred amidst the rubble he created, as he calmly went inside, sat down and ordered breakfast).
In August 1994, Sanford, Fla., judge Newman Brock picked up hair clippers and went to the local Seminole County Jail for his regular biweekly haircut from his longtime hairstylist, Rick Thrower, who was serving 45 days for DUI violations. Said Thrower, "(The judge is) a very loyal customer."