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.
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).
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.