David Winkelman, 48, was arrested in Davenport, Iowa, in September on a misdemeanor warrant, still sporting “The Tattoo.” In late 2000, Winkelman, reacting to a radio “contest,” had his forehead inked with the logo of radio station KORB, “93 Rock,” because he had heard on-air personalities “offer” $100,000 to anyone who would do it. Winkelman had the tattoo done before checking, however, and the disk jockeys later informed him that the “contest” was a joke. (Winkelman filed a lawsuit against the station, but it was dismissed. Ten years later, the “93 Rock” format has expired, but Winkelman’s forehead remains busily tattooed.)
Government in Action! For most of 2010, California’s dysfunctional legislature could find no acceptable tax increases or spending cuts to keep the state from going broke, and only in October did it manage to cobble together enough pie-in-the-sky bookkeeping tricks to create the illusion of a balanced budget. Nonetheless, the legislature has been busy. It created a “Motorcycle Awareness Month” and a “Cuss Free Week,” considered changing the official state rock, and made it illegal to use non-California cows in the state’s marketing materials (a decision that entailed five committee votes and exhausted eight legislative analyses, according to a September Wall Street Journal report).
• At a U.S. Senate committee grilling in September, the head of enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission admitted that not a single agency staff member has been fired or demoted over the multiple missed signals handed to them in some cases 11 years before the Ponzi schemes of Bernard Madoff and R. Allen Stanford were uncovered. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said it appeared that “one side of the agency was screaming that there was a fire,” but the other side of the agency demurred because putting it out would have been hard work.
• The Prudential Financial corporation, holder of life insurance contracts on U.S. troops, modified the standard payout method in 1999 — by encouraging beneficiaries to take not lump sums but “checking accounts” on which survivors could draw down proceeds “as needed.” Though this arrangement obviously benefited Prudential, it was unclear to Bloomberg News (which broke the story in September 2010) why the Department of Veterans Affairs had endorsed it — implicitly in 1999 and then in writing in September 2009.
Among the Medicare billings only recently discovered as fraudulent (after being paid): (1) Brooklyn, N.Y., proctologist Boris Sachakov was paid for performing 6,593 hemorrhoidectomies and other procedures over a 13-month period—an average of 18 every day, 365 days a year (and 6,212 more than the doctor who billed the second-highest number). (2) Two Hialeah, Fla., companies, “Charlie RX” and “Happy Trips,” between them billed Medicare $63,000 for penis pumps — including a total of four to the same patient (by the way, a woman).
Great Art! In October, the award-winning London theater company Duckie announced plans for a June 2011 production, “Lullaby,” at the Barbican Pit, that would feature music and performances so soothing that patrons will be encouraged to attend in pajamas and lounge overnight in bed-seats, with an early morning shower included in the ticket price of 42 pounds ($66). Producer Simon Casson noted that, irrespective of the play, it is almost impossible to find overnight facilities in central London for that price.
• A September one-woman “dance” recital of performer-writer Ann Liv Young as a naked “Cinderella” at a theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., ran overtime because Young could not answer a scripted call of nature, which was to have been performed live on stage. According to an incredulous New York Times reviewer, Young sought tips from the audience to get her bowels moving but finally gave up and ended the performance. The reviewer cited the show’s “many layers of failure.”
Least Competent Dictator In September, when Ms. Nomatter Tagarira was sentenced to 39 months in jail for fraud, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and several officials were hoping to close the book on an embarrassing episode. Tagarira had convinced them in 2007 that she had the ability, by chanting into a rock, to find diesel fuel in the ground and make it shoot to the surface. Of course, this could only be accomplished by Tagarira’s having henchmen behind bushes using a pump, but apparently it worked, as she was rewarded with a $2.7 million fee and given use of a 50-vehicle convoy for her dowsing missions. Her ruse was not discovered until a year later.
Least Competent Criminals No Time for Disguises: Larry Shawn Taylor, 18, was arrested in Seattle in September, having been rather easily identifiable when police stopped him. Two victims had reported being robbed by a man with “GET MONEY” shaved into his haircut on one side and “GET” tattooed on his right hand and “MONEY” tattooed on the left. (At least Taylor did not claim that someone else must have had the same configuration.)
Undignified Deaths (1) A 49-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., doctor, whose relationship with her boyfriend was described as “on-again, off-again,” was killed in August when, after he had locked her out of his house, she tried to enter by sliding down the chimney, where she got stuck and asphyxiated. (2) A 29-year-old man, in a group of 12 “ghost hunters” on a field trip in Iredell County, N.C., in August, was killed by a speeding train. The 12 were investigating a rumored “ghost train” that killed 30 people in an 1891 crash and supposedly returns every year on the anniversary date.