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News of the Weird

Teach a Man to Fish ...

• The Drug Users Resource Center in Vancouver, British Columbia (heralded previously in News of the Weird for a vending machine dispensing 25-cent crack-cocaine pipes to discourage addicts from committing crimes to fund their habit), launched a program in August to supply alcoholics with beer-brewing and wine-making ingredients to discourage them from drinking rubbing alcohol, hand-sanitizer and mouthwash. The DURC “co-op” sells, for $10 monthly, brewing mix in a pre-hopped beer kit, but eventually, an official said, co-op members will brew from scratch, including boiling, mashing and milling. A civic leader told Canada’s National Post that the program has already begun to reduce crime in areas frequented by alcoholics.

Government in Action

• Rape-prevention activists estimate that local governments have backlogs of untested evidentiary “rape kits” that total up to 400,000 nationally—signifying free crimes for rapists, lost justice for victims, and ruined reputations for men wrongly arrested. (As TV police dramas emphasize, many rape victims are reluctant to submit to the indignity of swabbing and photographing so soon after being violated and comply only because detectives assure them of the rape kit’s importance.) Memphis, Tenn., has an inventory of 12,000, and the state of Texas at least 16,000—dating back to the 1980s. However, the cost of testing (about $500 each) is daunting for many city budgets, according to a February report by the Rape Kit Action Project in New York.

• More Texas Justice: After 37 years in prison, Jerry Hartfield goes to court in April for a retrial of his 1977 conviction (and death sentence) for murder in Bay City, Texas. Actually, the 1977 conviction was overturned, but before Hartfield could demand his release (he is described in court documents as illiterate with an IQ of 51), the then-governor commuted the sentence to life in prison in 1983. It was only in 2006 that a fellow inmate persuaded Hartfield that the commutation was illusory—since there was, at that point, no “sentence” to commute. Hartfield’s lawyers call Texas’ treatment a blatant violation of his constitutional right to a “speedy” trial, but prosecutors suggest that it is Hartfield’s own fault that he has remained in prison the last 30 years.

Congressional wisdom has prevented the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from using competitive bids to decide how much to pay for medical devices—and among the most steeply overpriced products are “vacuum erection systems” (“penis pumps”) that invigorate seniors’ lives. CMS pays an average of $360, while the Department of Veterans Affairs, which also buys the pumps but by competitive bid, pays about $185. In a January report, the Health and Human Services inspector general estimated the government could save $18 million a year (and beneficiaries another $4.5 million) if CMS could use competitive bidding.

Great Art!

• Frances Wadsworth-Jones’ jewelry design show (“Heaven Sent”) at the Museum of London runs until April, with centerpiece brooches that resemble bird droppings. Why, she was asked, would a woman want to wear jewelry suggesting that a pigeon soiled her lapel? “The stain is very intimate,” said the artist. It’s “something that you wouldn’t want, and you’re turning it into something beautiful.” Wadsworth-Jones’ pieces have sold for as much as the equivalent of $4,000.

• In December, the New York City parks department, responding to alarmed visitors at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, built a wooden fence to shield the sculpture “Bear Eats Man” so that parents might examine the structure before children start asking them awkward questions. The sculpture by Ms. Thordis Adalsteinsdottir is of a bear clutching, and about to bite, a man—who appears in shock and sports an erection that art aficionados have justified as possibly representing the man’s involuntary reflexive shock, according to a New York Times report.

Police Report

• Inexplicable: (1) Three suspects fled with about 30 pieces of jewelry from a burglary at Timothy’s Fine Jewelry in Broomfield, Colo., in January, but not before creating a puzzling scene on the surveillance video. Crushing the glass cases with sledgehammers, they moved quickly around the store, all the while constantly telling each other, “I love you, brother.” (2) Glenn Rundles, 32, was captured only days after robbing two women at knifepoint in East Post Oak, Texas, in January—despite a wanted poster called by some the “worst police sketch ever,” a “cartoon” of a comically round-faced man (displayed at huff.to/1cXWT3p).

• Suspicion Confirmed: After Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna Jane Watts ticketed Miami Police Department officer Fausto Lopez in 2011 for speeding to an off-duty job at 120 mph, naturally some in law enforcement began harassing her as a “rat,” according to a February Associated Press report. One provocation stood out—other officers’ accessing Watts’ driver record by claiming to be on official business. Watts identified those officers’ employers and recently filed a lawsuit under the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act, which provides penalties of up to $2,500 for each of the more than 200 unauthorized searches by 88 officers from 25 police agencies.

Democracy in Action

• Christopher Schaeffer likely became the first public officeholder in the U.S. sworn in as an openly declared “Pastafarian”—an adherent of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—when he took his seat on the Town Council of Pomfret, N.Y., in January. Schaeffer was wearing the traditional Pastafarian religious head covering (a colander).

The Aristocrats!

• (1) Timothy Margis, 38, had risen professionally to become the director of Public Safety of Concordia University in River Forest, Ill. He is also the man who was fired in February after admitting that he had committed a “lewd act” in a colleague’s office (which police later explained involved masturbating into a woman’s shoe). (2) Catherine Dajnowski, 40, was arrested in February in Boca Raton, Fla., after she had climbed into a shopping cart in the parking lot of a Publix supermarket and would not allow a Publix employee to return it to the store. Dajnowski called 911 three times from the cart, demanding that police come make the employee leave her alone—the third time during which a sheriff’s deputy was standing right beside the cart.

Creme de la Weird

• DIY Pervert: Andrew Stoodley pleaded guilty in February in England’s Stroud Magistrates Court for invading the privacy of a neighbor woman whom he had admitted photographing surreptitiously about 100 times. (“She is a very beautiful woman,” he said, “and I enjoy looking at her.”) The worst episode, committed in July 2013, involved Stoodley dangling first a mirror, using a stick and string, outside her curtainless bedroom window at night and later, said the prosecutor, a cellphone camera “up and down (outside the window) like a yo-yo for 20 minutes.”

Least Competent Criminals

• Clumsy: (1) The surveillance video of The Shambles bar in Chicago showed that an attempted break-in one night in January went awry when the unidentified perp removed the front entrance lock but gave up and fled seconds later when he couldn’t open the door—which he was shown furiously pulling on, oblivious that it was a “push” door. (2) Robert Williams, 42, was charged with robbing a PNC Bank in Laurel, Md., in February after starring in the surveillance video by twice spilling his entire loot ($20,650) on the bank’s floor. After he finally gathered the bills and fled in a pickup truck, police punctured the tires, and when Williams tried to run, he slipped on the ice, slashing his head open.

Undignified Deaths

• In December, a 38-year-old man, apparently fed up with his girlfriend’s demands that he continue accompanying her at a shopping mall in Xuzhou, China, threw himself off a seventh-floor balcony, to his death. A witness reported the man yelling that the girlfriend already had “more shoes than she could wear in a lifetime, and it was pointless buying any more.” Following increasingly heated exchanges, the man dropped her shopping bags and leaped over the railing.

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