Using GPS and state-of-the-art sonar, Columbia University researchers recently made the first comprehensive map of the wonders submerged in New York City's harbors. Supplementing those findings with historical data, New York magazine reported the inventory's highlights in May: a 350-foot steamship (downed in 1920), a freight train (derailed in 1865), 1,600 bars of silver (unrecovered since 1903), a fleet of Good Humor ice cream trucks (which form a reef for aquatic life), and so many junked cars near the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges that divers use them as underwater navigation points. Of most concern lately, though, are the wildlife: 4-foot-long worms that eat wooden docks and tiny "gribbles" that eat concrete pilings.
Government in Action
• More California Money "Management": The Los Angeles Unified School District pays almost $10 million a year to about 160 teachers and staff who are forbidden to do any work -- those subject to discipline but whose cumbersome "due process" and appeals take years to carry out. One teacher, Matthew Kim, fired by the school board in 2002 for allegedly sexually harassing students and colleagues, still receives his $68,000 a year, including benefits, and (by union contract interpretation) cannot be called on to perform clerical or other non-"professional" duties during the appeals, according to a May Los Angeles Times report.
• Because of what an April Boston Globe report called "a decades-old interpretation of the state's militia laws," state government employees who are also members of the Massachusetts National Guard and who go on active duty are paid much more money if deployed at home than in Iraq or Afghanistan. State law requires those Guardsmen on domestic duty to be paid both for their state job and their military duty while Guardsmen in the war zones collect only the higher of the two salaries.
• Britain's Local Governments Are Afraid of Everything: (1) The Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service issued rules recently requiring the use of long poles to test high-up fire alarms because letting the firefighters use stepladders might lead to injuries. (2) The South Kesteven District Council decided in May to no longer hoist the oversized Flag of St. George outside Bourne Town Hall on St. George's Day -- because of the "risk" involved in using an 8-foot ladder on a plinth above a spoked gate.
• E-mails from Smithfield (Pa.) Township Supervisor Christine Griffin, published in May in the Pocono Record, confirmed the long-time complaints of critics about her lack of diplomacy. In one official e-mail, Griffin wrote: "Don't you dare waste my time with your (expletive), you lying cheating son of a (expletive), sneaky back door (expletive) nut (expletive) sucker." In another: "(N)o cement boots for me! Nice try though, a real drama rama! Reminder: I am the quintessential professional! (D)ecorum and common sense are my bylaws!"
Evolution of Democracy
(1) Kim Schroeder, running for vice president of the Milwaukee (Wis.) Teachers Education Association in May, promised a five-point program, with the first four being vows to make the union more aggressive toward the school board. His fifth point, he said, was "to make sure that there is ... beer and wine available for our monthly Leaders' Meetings." (He lost.) (2) Josko Risa finished second in the election for mayor of Prozolac, Croatia (pop. 4,500), and was in a run-off on May 31 because of (or despite) his campaign pledge of (roughly translated) "All for Me, Nothing for You" (or, "It is definitely going to be better for me, but will be the same for you"). (Run-off results from Croatia were not widely reported.)
The Continuing Crisis
Peter Singer, the author of a new book on battlefield robotics, told LiveScience.com in May he had seen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan grow so attached to their bomb-disposal robots that, in one case, the soldier risked 160 feet of enemy machine gun fire to retrieve his little buddy, and in another, a soldier brought his robot in for repairs with tears in his eyes over the "injury" to his beloved "Scooby-Doo." Several units, he said, had given their robots promotions, Purple Hearts and even a military funeral.
Fine Points of the Law
Richard Balsavage, 28, pleaded guilty in Berks County, Pa., in 2005 to taking pornographic photos of a toddler and was sentenced to nine to 23 months in jail, which he served, but while still on probation, he continued to possess child pornography and was re-sentenced by a different judge, to 3 1/2 to seven years in prison. Balsavage then asked that judge for a re-sentencing, pointing out that he had not been given a fair opportunity to express remorse, and the judge relented. Balsavage's apology went for naught because the judge had learned that during therapy sessions, Balsavage confessed to a history of abuse of young children. If Balsavage had not demanded re-sentencing, he might have been out in 3 1/2 years, but his new term was set at 24 1/2 to 49 years.
People Different From Us
In the Kings Creek area north of Lenoir, N.C., according to sheriff's deputies, two feuding families created a ruckus in May after a dog killed a neighbor's cat. When the cat's owner found out, he shot the dog dead. When the dog's owner found out, he shot the cat's owner and the man's young daughter. Deputies were called, and when they arrived, the dog's owner shot both of them, but one got off a return shot, fatally wounding the dog's owner (and completing the chain!).
Least Competent Criminals
(1) Brandon Hiser, 22, was arrested in Kansas City, Mo., in May for trying to break into a bank using only a screwdriver - a daunting task any time but the bank Hiser was trying to enter was the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. (2) Ezedrick Jones, 18, was arrested in Memphis, Tenn., for the attempted robbery of the very same KFC from which he had recently been fired. Though masked, Jones was recognized by his former manager via the mask's oversized eye holes, and throughout the robbery the manager kept addressing Ezedrick by name.
(1) The most recent man to decide to smash a bullet with a hammer, George Fath, of Pleasant Lake, Ind., said he wanted to destroy it so it wouldn't harm his kids. Fath told WANE-TV in April that he was shot in the stomach "and knocked ... on my butt." (2) Yet another man tried to explain away testing positive for cocaine by swearing he could only have ingested the drug when he performed oral sex on his cocaine-using girlfriend.