News of the Weird 

Government in Action

All four of the Seminole County, Fla. (suburban Orlando), judges who hear drunk-driving cases have routinely tossed out all challenged breath-alcohol readings since January (a total of more than 700), according to a September Orlando Sentinel story, because the judges believe the defendants should be given access to the machines’ computer code. (Without the readings as evidence, about half the DUI defendants go free.) The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says the machines are accurate and that, anyway, manufacturers protect the codes as trade secrets.

An Associated Press investigation revealed in September that $5 billion in Small Business Administration loans authorized in the wake of Sept. 11 was so poorly managed that businesses close to New York City’s Ground Zero went begging for money while thousands of businesses throughout the country got emergency loans by creatively describing how they were hurt by the Islamist-terrorist attacks. More than 130 franchised fast-food shops; dentists and chiropractors; a South Dakota radio station; a Utah dog boutique; and a Virgin Islands perfume shop were among those who got the mostly guaranteed loans. SBA admitted that it assigned some ordinary loans to the 9-11 fund on its own and generously accepted others’ 9-11 “qualifications.”

Great Art!

Among the extraordinary exhibits constructed especially for this year’s Burning Man festival in late August in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert was Don Bruce’s and Tracy Feldstein’s “The Disgusting Spectacle,” a 23-foot-tall human head designed with a pulley and large hamster-type wheel that lets it pick its own nose. In a July interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, Bruce admitted that theirs wasn’t the typical artsy Burning Man project: “Ours is stupid. That’s stupid with three O’s.”

The museum at Cherepovets, Russia (about 400 miles north of Moscow), recently introduced a collection of items actually used by students for successfully cheating in school, including a pair of women’s panties on which logarithms and math formulas had been written upside down in black ink. Also on display: a sports jacket with (according to a September dispatch in the Chronicle of Higher Education) “enough secret mechanisms to keep a cardshark flush for decades” and a jeans skirt with 70 numbered pockets for cheat sheets.

Notorious performance artist Zhang Huan gave a live show of his books-themed photo installation “My Boston” at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts in September, including burying himself under a pile of volumes, eating pages, and shimmying up a flagpole while weighted down with books. Zhang’s previous notable works include “Seeds of Hamburg,” in which he coated himself with birdseed and honey and sat in a cage with 28 doves. According to a Boston Globe reporter, some people “outside” the performance-art world might call Zhang a “crackpot.”

Readers’ Choice

Probably the most notorious example of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s under-preparation for Hurricane Katrina was the over-ordering of 91,000 tons of ice cubes intended to cool the victims and their food and medicine. One now-famous truck, for example, picked up 20 tons of ice in Greenville, Pa., drove to a Carthage, Mo., FEMA facility, then to Montgomery, Ala., for a day and a half, then to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, then to Selma, Ala., then to Emporia, Va. (where it idled for a week to keep the ice frozen), and finally to Fremont, Neb., where the ice was put up for storage. (Update: On the day that Hurricane Wilma hit Florida in October, FEMA acting director David Paulison proudly noted that because of the over-ordering for Katrina, plenty of ice was on hand after Wilma.)

News From the F State

In Homosassa, Fla., near Tampa, Ralph Padgett, 73, was arrested in October and charged with running down (on his riding lawn mower) estranged neighbor David Ervin, who was also on a riding lawn mower. And in nearby Zephyrhills, in October, retiree Bryan Toll became the third person this year to pay more than $200,000 for a manufactured home at the Betmar Village Mobile Home Park. (Well, it is an 1,800-square-foot double-wide, located next to a golf course clubhouse.)

Creme de la Weird

In September, after law enforcement officers in North Carolina spotted a reportedly stolen ambulance and chased it through three counties until forcing it into a ditch north of Greensboro, they found the driver to be mohawk-hairstyled Leon Hollimon Jr., 37, who is not a medical professional but was wearing a stethoscope and with latex gloves in his pocket. Strapped to a gurney in the back was a dead six-point deer, and according to witnesses cited by the Florida Times-Union newspaper (Hollimon is from Jacksonville, Fla.), an intravenous line was attached to it and a defibrillator had been used.

Least Competent People

Lawyer Cindy Baker’s client, Mike Koster, was charged with methamphetamine and marijuana possession and set for trial in October in Berryville, Ark., but he was also charged with possession of a bomb. Baker’s trial strategy was to downplay the latter charge by bringing the actual bomb into the courtroom as evidence, but the horrified judge cleared the building and put out a call for the nearest bomb squad, and according to a source for the Carroll County News, the bomb was taken away and detonated. The judge also declared a mistrial and set a contempt of court hearing for Baker.

Clumsy People With Guns (All-New)

The following people accidentally shot themselves recently: a Fond du Lac, Wis., man, in the abdomen, while using a screwdriver to dislodge a round from his pistol (August); a Nacogdoches, Texas, woman, in the foot while trying to kill a snake on her property (September) (and the same woman, again trying to kill a snake, shot herself in the other foot the next day); a Tennessee Highway Patrolman, in the leg as he holstered his pistol while chasing a fleeing suspect near Maryville (August); a teenage boy, in the leg while fleeing after robbing a food store in New Caney, Texas (August); a 33-year-old Milwaukee man, in the leg while fleeing after robbing a man on the street (October). And Danny Walden, Taylorsville, Ky., was shot by the rifle he had set up in his home as a booby trap to protect his 115 marijuana plants (October).

The Continuing Crisis

In August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan placed ads in Colombian newspapers and magazines “ordering” certain leaders of the revolutionary group FARC to come to America and appear in his courtroom in Washington, D.C., to answer charges of kidnapping U.S. citizens. Hogan’s assistant said the law requires notification and that no one seems to have the secretive FARC’s address.

Italy’s highest appeals court ruled in March that a divorcing man would have to pay alimony to his ex-wife because he had refused to have sex with her for seven years as punishment for challenging him in a family argument. (Whatever point the husband was trying to make was not disclosed.)


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Chuck Shepherd

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