The Feral Professor: Tihomir Petrov, 43, a mathematics professor at California State University Northridge, was charged in January with misdemeanors for allegedly urinating twice on the office door of a colleague with whom he had been feuding. (Petrov was identified by a hidden camera installed after the original puddles turned up.) Petrov is the author of several scholarly papers, with titles such as "Rationality of Moduli of Elliptic Fibrations With Fixed Monodromy."
-- Gangs in Durban, South Africa, have recently begun stealing expensive anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs destined for AIDS patients and using them in the country's most popular street drug, "whoonga," a highly addictive, smoked cocktail of detergent, rat poison, marijuana and the ARVs. The crisis was reported by KwaZulu-Natal province drug-abuse organizations and Durban police, who stood by their claims despite attempts by South African president Jacob Zuma to assure international suppliers of ARVs that more were needed and that none were being diverted for whoonga.
-- Somehow, prison inmates finagled $39 million in undeserved federal tax refunds in 2009, according to a February report by the U.S. Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration. In Key West, Fla., for example, where prisoner Danilo Suarez was sentenced in January to five years in prison for filing multiple fraudulent returns, jailers discovered a pass-around sheet of instructions for false filings. While some refunds were legitimate (e.g., on pre-incarceration investment activity), the IRS was found to conduct fraud screenings on fewer than half of all returns filed by prisoners. (The IRS complained that, until 2008, it was illegal for the agency to share information with state corrections officials -- or even with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.)
-- State law in Tennessee prohibits registered sex offenders from re-contacting their victims, but there is no such restriction on anyone convicted of a sex crime before 2007, and still in prison, but who is not yet on the registered list. (Post-2007 sex criminals are automatically registered upon conviction.) Consequently, according to a February WMC-TV report, convicted molester Terry McConnell cannot be prevented from mailing birthday cards to one of his two pre-2007 victims (one reading, "I cannot believe my little tot-tot is already a teenager. You might be tired of me writing this, but I can't get over how fast you are growing up"). (Prison officials say their limited resources are better used on monitoring incoming mail rather than outgoing.)
-- Senior Houston police officer Mike Hamby, 51, was suspended in February after witnesses reported that he, off-duty and not in uniform, had tossed a tear-gas grenade into a group of rivals in a rodeo cooking contest. Hamby has 30 years' service and was a member of his union's board of directors. About 300 teams compete in the barbecue cook-off, and police were investigating whether Hamby was merely trying to sabotage a competitor's food.
-- As is usually the case when Walmart announces the intention to build a new store, community supporters (pushing for jobs, an enlarged tax base and shopper convenience) battle community opponents (trying to save mom-and-pop retailers), and when plans were announced for a northeast Washington, D.C., location, it was the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Brenda Speaks, who produced a brand-new reason for opposing such a store. Young people, she told an anti-Walmart rally (according to a February Washington Post report), would be more likely to get criminal records because, with a big corporation around, they could less resist the temptation to steal.
-- British drug dealer Luke Walsh-Pinnock, 22, recently released after a prison stint, threatened in February to sue police in the Kilburn neighborhood of London after officers distributed a leaflet near his mother's home warning that Walsh-Pinnock was once again free. Walsh-Pinnock said he felt "humiliated" by the leaflet, in violation of his "human rights."
(1) Timothy Walker, 48, was hospitalized in Burlington, N.C., in February after he fell off of an SUV while he was on top, holding down two mattresses for the driver, who apparently rounded a curve too fast. (2) Three people were hospitalized in Bellevue, Wash., in January when their van stalled and then exploded as the ignition was re-engaged. They were carrying two gallons of gasoline in an open container and had been feeding the carburetor directly, through an opening in the engine housing (between the seats), as the van was in motion. (It was not reported why they were doing it that way.)
-- Washington, D.C., resident Nicole Pugh, arriving at her polling station in November with the sole intention of casting a vote for mayor, noticed a line on the ballot asking her choice for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, even though no candidates were listed. On a lark and with no knowledge of the office, she wrote in her own name, and that evening was informed that she had been elected, 1-0, to an office that had been vacant, through apathy, for the previous 14 years. Though other Advisory Neighborhood Commission positions are contested and the candidates quite active, none is paid, and they work mostly via meetings. (However, having the title can garner press attention -- for example, for Brenda Speaks, commenting on the planned Walmart store, above.)
-- When James Maynard arrived at the murder trial of his former long-time lover Fiona Adams, 24, in February at Britain's Nottingham Crown Court, it was supposedly in support of Adams, who was contending that she did not recklessly start a fire that blazed out of control and took the lives of two of the couple's three children. However, Maynard, in full view of a mob of reporters, was wearing a grotesque clown mask resembling the face of the character Pennywise in the Stephen King novel "It," and he declined numerous opportunities to comment on why he was wearing it. (After a three-week trial, Adams was acquitted.)
Elusive Perps: (1) Armed-robbery convict Edward Nathan Jr. escaped from a Florida work-release center in 1983 and, as "Claude Brooks" and other identities, managed to avoid police for the next 27 years, until he slipped up in December in Atlanta -- arrested after being caught urinating in public. He was returned to Florida and charged with escape. (2) Accused thief Anthony Darwin, 30, who had successfully eluded authorities in Wisconsin since 2004, turned himself in to Sheriff Bob Spoden in Janesville in January, apparently only because he needs treatment for cancer. However, not wanting to pay for the expensive surgery, Spoden asked a judge to dismiss the arrest warrant and put Darwin back on the street. (Judge Alan Bates released Darwin for treatment, which will surely be paid for by the taxpayer, although perhaps not on the sheriff's account.)
The Country Afraid of Its Own Shadow: (1) Britain's Oxfordshire County Council, which oversees youth swimming classes, banned goggles from the pools in February because of the fear that kids might snap the elastic bands and hurt their eyes. (2) Malvern Primary School in Huyton, Merseyside, recently banned play with regulation soccer balls because they are made of leather. "Football," it ruled, must be played with less-dangerous sponge balls.
The German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur reported in November (1992) on Japanese inventor Kenji Kawakami's "New Idea Academy," which features his own innovations and counts among his most successful products a portable washing machine that straps onto the user's leg (swirling the clothes with each step); a travel necktie with room for writing utensils and a calculator; padded booties for cats so they can dust the floor while walking around; and a "solar flashlight" that provides a strong beam of light as long as the sun is shining.
Thanks This Week to Brian Wilson, Bruce Leiserowitz, Gerald Sacks, Steve Dunn, and Tom Martin, and to News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.