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Professional Training Required

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August that it had contract work for up to 2,100 language specialists to transcribe wiretaps, with immediate needs in the Atlanta field office for 144 Spanish experts, along with 12 for Vietnamese, and nine each for Korean, Farsi and "Ebonics." Ebonics is recognized by some linguists as the "nonstandard" form of English spoken by African-Americans. (In one example cited by the Associated Press, offered by Stanford professor John Rickford, "th" endings are pronounced as "f," e.g., "both" as "boaf.")

The Continuing Crisis

• Texas State Rep. Joe Driver, an 18-year House veteran whose website notes his opposition to "big spending habits of liberals in government," was revealed in August to have been routinely double-billing the government for travel expenses and to have been genuinely surprised to learn that voters and colleagues might find that improper. Wrote the Associated Press: "Driver insists he thought the double-billing was perfectly appropriate -- until talking about it with the AP," at which point he appeared to change his mind. "Well, it doesn't sound (appropriate) now (if) you bring it up that way," he admitted. "(To learn that) pretty well screws my week." For at least five years, Driver had been collecting from the government for expenses already reimbursed by his re-election campaign.

• Every weekend for the last four years, parishioners from the New Beginnings Ministries church in Warsaw, Ohio, have gathered in front of The Fox Hole strip club in nearby Newcastle and tried to shame customers by photographing them and posting their license plate numbers on the Internet, and brandishing hellfire-threatening signs. Recently, however, Fox Hole's strippers joined the duel, congregating on Sundays in front of New Beginnings, wearing bikinis and "see-through" shorts, dancing scandalously, squirting each other with jumbo water guns, and wielding their own Bible-quoting signs to greet the day's worshippers.

• The Los Angeles Unified School District has laid off nearly 3,000 teachers in the last two years, faces a $640 million annual shortfall, and runs some of the country's worst-performing classrooms. However, in the last three years, it has opened three luxurious "Taj Mahal" schools costing $1.1 billion, including the $578 million, amenity-rich, architecturally grand Robert F. Kennedy school, opening in September. "New buildings are nice," said one California Board of Education member, but not "when they're run by the same people who've given us a 50 percent dropout rate." Included in these elegant palaces are a state-of-the-art swimming pool, manicured public park, a restaurant-quality kitchen, modernistic towers, a cushioned dance floor -- and of course lavish offices for teachers and administrators.

• An Indian in the western Brazilian state of Rondonia lives completely isolated from humans -- the last survivor of his never-contacted tribe. However, the government has taken the unprecedented step of protecting 31 square miles of his habitat, monitored against trespass by technology including heat-sensitive flyovers -- even though developers point out that 31 square miles of farming could produce food for many more Brazilians than "one." The man was spotted 15 years ago, appearing to be about 30 years old (and leaving one of the spotters with an arrow in the chest), but has left only clues since then, and three years ago, the government stopped looking for him.

Democracy in Action

• Wisconsin law permits independent candidates five-word statements to accompany their names on the ballot, to signal voters just as the words "Republican" and "Democrat" are signals, but Milwaukee Assembly candidate Ieshuh Griffin was ruled in July to have gone too far with her statement ("NOT the ‘whiteman's bitch'") (her capitalization and punctuation). Griffin said the decision baffled her since "everyone" she spoke with understood exactly what she meant.

• Mark Reckless, elected to the British House of Commons only two months earlier, apologized in July for failing to vote on a budget bill that required a late-night session to pass. He explained that he had had a drink or two while waiting for the session to begin and barely remembered what happened (except for "someone asking me to vote").


Joseph Wheeler filed a $12 million lawsuit in August against Prince George's Hospital in Upper Marlboro, Md., over its treatment following a June 23 car accident. He was admitted with serious injuries, but hospital staff mistakenly marked him for next-day cancer surgery, and when he protested and tried to leave, two muscular staff "security" men restrained him, dishing out even more pain. Yelled one, according to the lawsuit, "Get off the floor, bitch!" "I don't care who you think you are. This is my camp." (The next day Wheeler talked his way to St. Mary's Hospital, where he was treated for four broken ribs, a sprained shoulder, ruptured spleen and concussion.)

The Weirdo-American Community

John Theodore Anderson (also known, in his court filings, as "John-Theodore:Anderson) filed a lawsuit in August against an Alpine, Utah, attorney who had acquired land from a man who Anderson said owed him $4,000 for "consulting" work. The attorney, and the previous owner, denied Anderson's claim, provoking Anderson to file a lien on the land -- for $918 billion (a mark-up only quixotically related to the $4,000). However, by the time Anderson got around to filing the lawsuit to defend the lien, his $4,000 claim had become $38 quadrillion (38 thousand trillion dollars).

Least Competent Criminals

Unclear on the Concept: (1) In Maine Township, Ill., Mr. Janusz Owca was arrested in August for choking his wife and was booked into jail and given his traditional phone call. With police listening, Owca called his wife and threatened to kill her. (2) Veteran criminal Nathan Pugh, 49, walked in to a Wells Fargo bank in Dallas on July 26 and presented his holdup note to a teller (claiming to have a "bom"). The teller told Pugh that she could not release large amounts of money without proper ID and convinced Pugh to turn over both a Texas state ID card and his Wells Fargo debit card, both in his own name. Police arrived just as Pugh was leaving and after an attempt to grab a hostage, he was arrested. (He even failed with the hostage -- a woman carrying a child -- who still managed to take Pugh to the floor.)

Recurring Themes

-- More British Local Council Wisdom: (1) Nottinghamshire County Council recently refused, for the third time, to issue a disabled-parking permit to British Army Cpl. Johno Lee, whose right leg was amputated below the knee following an explosion in Iraq. Lee said a staff member told him he was "young" and that his situation "might get better." (2) The Romford council's housing administrator ruled in July that, notwithstanding sweltering temperatures and kids' summer vacations, vinyl wading pools were prohibited -- as safety hazards, in that firefighters could possibly trip over them if responding to emergencies.

-- More Poor Multitaskers: (1) A 47-year-old woman accidentally drove off a boat ramp in Sacramento County, Calif., in August and drowned, as she had become distracted on a cell phone call with her daughter. (2) In Cincinnati in August, Colondra Hamilton, 32, was arrested after a routine traffic stop. Officers said they found Hamilton with her pants unbuttoned, a sex toy in her lap, and a computer playing a video in the passenger seat.

A News of the Weird Classic (September 1998)

Police in Bonita Springs, Fla., charged Randall James Baker, 45, with aggravated battery in August (1998) for shooting his friend Robert Callahan in the head -- sending him to the hospital. A sheriff's spokesman said Baker and Callahan had a playful tradition between them -- that any time either of them acquired a new baseball-type cap, the other would try to shoot the little button off the top. This time, according to the sheriff, alcohol played a bigger role than usual.


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Chuck Shepherd

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