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Friday October 24th 2014

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News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Arkansas Time Machine, Back to the 1950s: In McGehee, a town of 4,200 in southeastern Arkansas, a black girl (Kym Wimberly) who had finished first in her senior class was named only “co-”valedictorian after officials at McGehee High changed the rules to avoid what one called a potential “big mess.” As a result, in an ironic twist on “affirmative action,” the highest-scoring white student was elevated to share top honors. Said Kym’s mother, “We (all) know if the tables were turned, there wouldn’t be a co-valedictorian.” In July, the girl filed a lawsuit against the school and the protocol-changing principal.

Redneck Chronicles (1) Roy Griffith, 60, John Sanborn, 53, and Douglas Ward, 55, were arrested in Deerfield Township, Mich., in July and charged with stealing a 14-foot-long stuffed alligator from a barn, dragging it away with their truck, and using it to surf in the mud (“mudbogging”). When the gator’s owner tracked down the three nearby, they denied the theft and insisted that theirs is an altogether-different 14-foot-long stuffed alligator. (Ward’s blood-alcohol reading was 0.40.) (2) When deputies in Monroe County, Tenn., arrested a woman for theft in August, they learned that one of the items stolen was a 150-year-old Vatican-certified holy relic based on the Veil of Veronica (supposedly used to wipe Jesus’ face before the crucifixion). The painting had been stolen from the closet of a trailer home on a back road in the Tennessee mountains, where a local named “Frosty,” age 73, had kept it for 20 years with no idea of its significance.

Government in Action! Of the 1,500 judges who referee disputes as to whether someone qualifies for Social Security disability benefits, David Daugherty of West Virginia is the current soft-touch champion, finding for the claimant about 99 percent of the time (compared to judges’ overall rate of 60 percent). As The Wall Street Journal reported in May, Daugherty decided many of the cases without hearings or with the briefest of questioning, including batches of cases brought by the same lawyer. He criticized his less lenient colleagues, who “act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away.” (A week after the Journal report, Judge Daugherty was placed on leave, pending an investigation.)

Gee, What Do We Do With All This Stimulus Money? The Omaha (Neb.) Public School system spent $130,000 of its stimulus grant recently just to buy 8,000 copies of the book “The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change”—that is, one copy for every single employee, from principals to building custodians. Alarmingly, wrote an Omaha World-Herald columnist, the book is “riddled with gobbledygook,” “endless graphs,” and such tedium as the “cultural proficiency continuum” and discussion of the “disequilibrium” arising “due to the struggle to disengage with past actions associated with unhealthy perspectives.”

Police Report In June, the Five Guys Burger and Fries restaurant in White Plains, N.Y., was robbed by five guys (well, actually, four guys and a woman). One of the guys worked at Five Guys. All five “guys” were arrested.

The Pervo-American Community Beginning in 2002, a man was reported sidling up to women on crowded New York City subway trains and rubbing against them until he ejaculated. Police were unable to identify him but were concerned enough that they obtained an indictment-—“naming” the suspect only as whoever’s DNA it was who committed the subway crimes. In July 2011, they finally obtained a match, to Darnell Hardware, 26, who had been in the system repeatedly (drug and indecent-exposure charges) but not until July in offenses that obligated collection of DNA.

Great Art! In his signature performance art piece, John Jairo Villamil depicted both the excitement and danger of the city of Bogota, Colombia, by appearing on stage with a tightened garbage bag over his head and his feet in a bucket of water, holding a chain in one hand and a plant’s leaf in the other. At a May show at Bogota’s Universidad del Bosque, Villamil, 25, fussed with the tightened bag and soon collapsed to the floor, stirred a little, and then was motionless. The audience, likely having assumed that the collapse was part of the performance, did not immediately render assistance, and Villamil lost consciousness and died in a hospital five days later.

A News of the Weird Classic (April 1998) In March (1998), trial began in Lesli Szabo’s $1.7 million lawsuit against a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital for not making her 1993 childbirth pain-free. (Physicians said that painless childbirth cannot be achieved without the anesthesia’s endangering the child.) Szabo admitted to previous run-ins with physicians, explaining, “When I’m in pain, the (words) that come out of my mouth would curl your hair.” In the lawsuit, Szabo said she expected to be able to read or knit while the baby was being delivered. (The parties eventually settled the lawsuit.)