Unenlightened pediatrics 

Lead Story

American families from certain Asian and African cultures continue to ritually "circumcise" their young daughters, though the practice is illegal in the U.S. and most of the world. In May, the bioethics committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its policy from absolutely banning such surgery to one which would sanction a minor "pinprick" on girls' genitals (comparable, it said, to ear-piercing), with the hope of satisfying parents so they would not opt to send the girls to the home countries for full genital "mutilation." U.S. anti-female-circumcision support groups were outraged. Said one advocate, "We don't let (husbands) beat their wives a little bit" just because their cultures permit wife-beating.

Government in Action!

• The local government of Bolton, England, responding in March to a citizen's report of a discarded mattress on the side of a road, sent an official to assess the scene. He wrote a work order for four men (a driver, an assistant and two supervisors) and a 1.7-ton construction vehicle, and the pickup was scheduled for the following week, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. (When a Bolton councilman saw the schedule, he, with the help of a friend, drove a council van to the scene and hauled the mattress to a dump site.)

• A Hollywood, Fla., leukemia patient on Medicaid had endured six months of grueling chemotherapy in order to be healthy enough for a long-awaited bone marrow transplant when, in March, a Social Security Administration caseworker called her up out of the blue to inform her that her son was eligible for disability payments, which the woman immediately signed up for. However, almost as immediately, Medicaid removed her from its rolls because the disability check raised her income beyond the qualifying maximum, and her transplant was, life-threateningly, canceled. (In April, the hospital persuaded Medicaid to cover the transplant.)

• In April, officials in Hudson, N.Y., proudly unveiled their state-of-the-art water fountain for the disabled in the county courthouse, a fixture whose installation was agreed to in a 2003 settlement with federal officials enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the fountain was installed on the courthouse's second floor, which is accessible only by stairway. In defense, county officials said the fountain had several features for handicapped people other than those in wheelchairs.

• Apparently, the death penalty is so important to Californians that they spend $125 million a year administering it, plus $400 million recently for a new death row and execution chamber even though the state is notoriously nearly bankrupt and even though, in a death-row population of more than 700, only 13 have been executed in the past 30 years. (As News of the Weird mentioned last year, one killer demanded the death penalty instead of life in prison because death row has better facilities and because, like nearly everyone on death row, he expects to die of disease or natural causes before the state can execute him.) Said the outraged mother of a raped-and-murdered teenage boy, of her son's killer, "(Scott Erskine) is (in) there watching television knowing I am going to die before he does."

Great Art!

• Susan Collis' conceptual art, "Since I Fell for You," debuted at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, in May, consisting of an empty room with pieces of lumber on the floor, along with a broom propped against a wall and an empty laundry bag. Though the Birmingham Mail quoted several annoyed visitors, Collis defended her work. "Often a work that looks very careless ... takes a long time to produce."

• Just finishing up in May at New York City's Museum of Modern Art is a tribute to performance artist Marina Abramovic for her lifetime achievements in making patrons uneasy. Videos played, including one in which the artist screams at the top of her lungs until such time as she loses her voice, and visitors faced unsettling live demonstrations, including being asked to enter a room by squeezing between a naked man and woman facing each other in the doorway. The artist herself planned to attend the entire run sitting at a table in the museum's atrium, silent and motionless, all day long, during which time patrons could stare back at her.

Police Report

• A 2009 Minnesota law gives local police the authority to make traffic stops to enforce the stand-alone offense of failure of a passenger to wear a seat belt. According to a report in the Pioneer Press, police in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood take it seriously. An undercover cop, posing as a homeless man with a "will work for food" sign, roamed an intersection, peering into cars and secretly signaling colleagues, who subsequently pulled over violators, and all unbelted passengers were issued $108 tickets: $25 for the violation, $75 for a brand-new "surcharge" for petty misdemeanors, and an $8 general state fee (none of which, according to the legislative history, represented a "tax increase").

• Veteran Dallas attorney Sandra McFeeley, 67, was arrested in April after refusing to stop pruning the excess vegetation and dead tree limbs at her neighborhood's Wynnewood Parkway Park, which she had been doing regularly for three years, thus violating a municipal trespass ordinance. McFeeley remained upbeat. "I met some neat people (at the police station). I'd never been in a perp walk before. It was cool." Said a supporter, "It's hard enough to keep that neighborhood nice without having the police haul people off for felonious gardening."


• Galena Park, Texas, high school teacher Fernando Gonzalez, 35, was sentenced to seven years in prison in March as a result of his being caught using his classroom computer to watch child pornography from his many disks. He tried to explain that he had no other choice, in that his wife had already banned him from watching child porn at home.

• Mary Merten, 43, pleaded guilty in March to four felonies in connection with an eight-year-long spree in which, as bookkeeper for a two-lawyer firm in Kingston, N.Y., she stole over $800,000 via embezzlement and theft of the lawyers' identities. However, as she awaited sentencing, she wrote her former bosses: "I would ask that you consider keeping me employed. ... I truly enjoy my job and want to continue to work for the both of you to make up for my imperfections." (At press time, she was still awaiting sentencing.) c



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Chuck Shepherd

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