Arkansas Time Machine, Back to the 1950s: In McGehee, a town of 4,200 in southeastern Arkansas, a black girl (Kym Wimberly) who had finished first in her senior class was named only "co-"valedictorian after officials at McGehee High changed the rules to avoid what one called a potential "big mess." As a result, in an ironic twist on "affirmative action," the highest-scoring white student was elevated to share top honors. Said Kym's mother, "We (all) know if the tables were turned, there wouldn't be a co-valedictorian." In July, the girl filed a lawsuit against the school and the protocol-changing principal.
(1) Roy Griffith, 60, John Sanborn, 53, and Douglas Ward, 55, were arrested in Deerfield Township, Mich., in July and charged with stealing a 14-foot-long stuffed alligator from a barn, dragging it away with their truck, and using it to surf in the mud ("mudbogging"). When the gator's owner tracked down the three nearby, they denied the theft and insisted that theirs is an altogether-different 14-foot-long stuffed alligator. (Ward's blood-alcohol reading was 0.40.) (2) When deputies in Monroe County, Tenn., arrested a woman for theft in August, they learned that one of the items stolen was a 150-year-old Vatican-certified holy relic based on the Veil of Veronica (supposedly used to wipe Jesus' face before the crucifixion). The painting had been stolen from the closet of a trailer home on a back road in the Tennessee mountains, where a local named "Frosty," age 73, had kept it for 20 years with no idea of its significance.
-- Of the 1,500 judges who referee disputes as to whether someone qualifies for Social Security disability benefits, David Daugherty of West Virginia is the current soft-touch champion, finding for the claimant about 99 percent of the time (compared to judges' overall rate of 60 percent). As The Wall Street Journal reported in May, Daugherty decided many of the cases without hearings or with the briefest of questioning, including batches of cases brought by the same lawyer. He criticized his less lenient colleagues, who "act like it's their own damn money we're giving away." (A week after the Journal report, Judge Daugherty was placed on leave, pending an investigation.)
-- Gee, What Do We Do With All This Stimulus Money? The Omaha (Neb.) Public School system spent $130,000 of its stimulus grant recently just to buy 8,000 copies of the book "The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change" -- that is, one copy for every single employee, from principals to building custodians. Alarmingly, wrote an Omaha World-Herald columnist, the book is "riddled with gobbledygook," "endless graphs," and such tedium as the "cultural proficiency continuum" and discussion of the "disequilibrium" arising "due to the struggle to disengage with past actions associated with unhealthy perspectives."
-- Once hired, almost no federal employee ever leaves. Turnover is so slight that, among the typical causes for workers leaving, "death by natural causes" is more likely the reason than "fired for poor job performance." According to a July USA Today report, the federal rate of termination for poor performance is less than one-fifth the private sector's, and the annual retention rate for all federal employees was 99.4 percent (and for white collar and upper-income workers, more than 99.8 percent). Government defenders said the numbers reflect excellence in initial recruitment.
-- Bats' Rights: In January, Alison Murray purchased her first-ever home, in Aberdeen, Scotland, but was informed in August that she has to relocate, temporarily, because the house has become infested with bats, which cannot be disturbed, under Scottish and European law, once they settle in. Conservation officials advised her that she could probably move back in November, when the bats leave to hibernate.
-- In June, the Five Guys Burger and Fries restaurant in White Plains, N.Y., was robbed by five guys (well, actually, four guys and a woman). One of the guys worked at Five Guys. All five "guys" were arrested.
-- Catch-22: NYPD officer James Seiferheld, 47, still receives his $52,365 annual disability pay despite relentless efforts of the department to fire him. He had retired in 2004 on disability, but was ordered back to work when investigators found him doing physical work inconsistent with "disability." However, Seiferheld could not return to work because he repeatedly failed drug screening (for cocaine). Meanwhile, his appeal of the disability denial went to the state Court of Appeals, which found a procedural error and ordered that Seiferheld's "disability" benefits continue (even though the city has proven both that he is physically able and a substance-abuser).
-- Unclear on the Concept: In April, Robert Williams conscientiously completed his San Diego police officers' application, answering truthfully, he said, questions 172 (yes, he had had sexual contact with a child) and 175 (yes, he had "viewed or transacted" child pornography). Three weeks later, the police had not only rejected his application but arrested him. Williams' wife, Sunem, said the police department has "integrity" problems because "telling the truth during the hiring process brings prosecution. ..."
Beginning in 2002, a man was reported sidling up to women on crowded New York City subway trains and rubbing against them until he ejaculated. Police were unable to identify him but were concerned enough that they obtained an indictment -- "naming" the suspect only as whoever's DNA it was who committed the subway crimes. In July 2011, they finally obtained a match, to Darnell Hardware, 26, who had been in the system repeatedly (drug and indecent-exposure charges) but not until July in offenses that obligated collection of DNA.
News of the Weird has reported on life-sized, anatomically correct dolls manufactured in fine detail with human features (e.g., the "Real Doll," as one brand is called), which are as different from the plastic inflatable dolls sold in adult stores as fine whiskey is to $2-a-bottle rotgut. An early progenitor of the exquisite dolls, according to new research by Briton Graeme Donald, was Adolf Hitler, who was worried that he was losing more soldiers to venereal disease than to battlefield injuries, and ordered his police chief, Heinrich Himmler, to oversee development of a meticulously made doll with blonde hair and blue eyes. (However, according to Donald, the project was stopped in 1942 and all the research lost in the Allies' bombing of Dresden, Germany.) Among those who had heard of Hitler's earlier interest, according to Donald, were the creators of what later became the Barbie doll.
In his signature performance art piece, John Jairo Villamil depicted both the excitement and danger of the city of Bogota, Colombia, by appearing on stage with a tightened garbage bag over his head and his feet in a bucket of water, holding a chain in one hand and a plant's leaf in the other. At a May show at Bogota's Universidad del Bosque, Villamil, 25, fussed with the tightened bag and soon collapsed to the floor, stirred a little, and then was motionless. The audience, likely having assumed that the collapse was part of the performance, did not immediately render assistance, and Villamil lost consciousness and died in a hospital five days later.
In March (1998), trial began in Lesli Szabo's $1.7 million lawsuit against a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital for not making her 1993 childbirth pain-free. (Physicians said that painless childbirth cannot be achieved without the anesthesia's endangering the child.) Szabo admitted to previous run-ins with physicians, explaining, "When I'm in pain, the (words) that come out of my mouth would curl your hair." In the lawsuit, Szabo said she expected to be able to read or knit while the baby was being delivered. (The parties eventually settled the lawsuit.)