by Chuck Shepherd

Freedom Under Attack

First Amendment blues: (1) A bar in Horry County, SC named the Suck Bang Blow filed a lawsuit in May challenging the county’s new ordinance prohibiting motorcyclists’ “burnouts” (engine-revving with back-tire-spinning, cre ating smoke — and enormous noise). The bar claims that burnouts are important expressions of its customers’ “manliness and macho” and as such are protected by the First Amendment. (2) Luigi Bellavite complained to reporters in Mountain View, Colo. in July that the theft of his “Vote Satan” yard sign ought to be prosecuted as a “hate crime” under state law — as he is a member of the Church of Satan. Police called it an ordinary theft.

Government in Action!

• Miniature golf is remarkably simple to play, requiring neither experience nor much exertion, and even toddlers can negotiate their own brand of fun on the course. However, in March, a set of “accessible design” standards went into effect, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, governing such things as the “slope” of courses (maximum 1:4 rise on some holes), the maximum length of the blades if artificial turf is used, and the minimum area of the “tee-off” landing (48 inches by 60 inches, with a slope not steeper than 1:48).

• The only unlimited-issue US visa allowing fast-lane entrance for certain foreign workers is the O-1, available to those (e.g., scientists, technology engineers) who, in the opinion of the State Department, demonstrate “extraordinary ability.” Reuters reported in June that an O-1 recently went to British journalist Piers Morgan, whose extraordinariness seems limited to replacing Larry King on his CNN interview program, and another to Shera Bechard, Playboy’s Miss November 2010, whose other accomplishment seems to be the creation of an online photo-sharing experience called “Frisky Friday.”

• Forgetful: (1) USA Today, quoting a Pentagon official, reported in July that, during the last decade, the Pentagon had paid “late fees” totaling $610 million for not returning leased shipping containers by the due dates. (2) A Government Accountability Office report in July revealed that the federal government’s vast properties include about 14,000 offices and buildings that are vacant (or nearly so), but which the government still pays to maintain (at about $190 million a year). (A large building in Washington, DC’s Georgetown — among the most valuable real estate in the city — has sat mostly unused for more than 10 years.) (3) The Miami-Dade County, Fla. government confirmed in April that it had discovered, in storage, 298 brand-new vehicles that had been purchased in 2006-2007, but which had never been used.

Police Report

• New Mexico is an “open carry” state, with otherwise law-abiding adults authorized to display loaded handguns in public. However, in the town of Vaughn (pop. 500, located midnowhere), perhaps the only ones not authorized to carry are the town’s two police officers.

Chief Ernest Armijo had been convicted in 2011 of criminal nonsupport of a wife and two sons, and among the conditions of probation was the prohibition on gun possession. Deputy Brian Bernal has his own domestic issue: a conviction for family violence that bars him, under federal law, from carrying.

• Specialist perps: (1) In May, Chicago police arrested a man they believed had just minutes earlier used a Bobcat front-end loader to crash through the window of a Family Dollar store and steal two cans of deodorant and a handful of gift cards (and nothing else) and walk away. (2) Police in Lorain, Ohio were looking in June for a black man about 18 years old who had been seen on surveillance video breaking into the same Sunoco convenience store several times recently and taking up to $600 worth of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Great Art!

Designer Jean-Emmanuel “Valnoir” Simoulin’s latest project combines his fascination with patches and with body modification. He said he will sew patches of his band’s next album directly onto his own back. “It’s a nostalgic project about my teenage-hood, when I had an iron faith [in] black-metal [music].”


People with too much money: The dogs could not care less, but the luxury doghouse market is thriving, according to a June New York Times report. “Many of them have carpeting, heating and air-conditioning, indoor and outdoor lighting, elaborate… entertainment systems,” wrote the Times, and some even have solar panels. But, said one owner, “Maggie’s never been in [hers]. She’s a house dog.”

Although offers upscale houses for $4,400 to $4,600, the more tony ones can go for more than $25,000. Top-shelf interior designers have created dog beds suspended from the ceiling and houses in which the music kicks on only as the dog enters (meaning that it almost never kicks on).

Recurring Themes

It has been reported variously as an urban legend and a true story, but a well-documented July report in Chinese media, picked up by CNN, looks unfortunately authentic. A 13-year-old boy in Shandong Province was severely injured by a prank at an auto repair shop at which he worked. Doctors at Bayi Children’s Hospital in Beijing confirmed that the co-workers had inserted the nozzle of an air pump into his rectum and shot air into the intestines, inflating his belly, damaging his liver, kidneys and stomach, and sending him into a coma for eight days. Doctors deflated him, but at press time, he remained in intensive care.

Least Competent Criminals

In June, firefighters were called to a trolley stop in National City, Calif. to free the arm of a 17-year-old boy after he got it stuck when he reached up a vending machine slot to try to steal a soda. The rescuers employed axes, crowbars, an air chisel and a rotary saw.

Readers’ Choice

(1) Rodney Valentine, 37, was released from jail in Wentworth, NC on July 21 about 8 a.m., but adamantly refused to leave until deputies agreed to drive him to a local motel. They declined, and by noon, Valentine had been re-arrested and charged with trespassing in the jail. (2) TSA Meets Its match: Jonah Falcon told Huffington Post in July that he had recently survived a pat-down at San Francisco International Airport. Falcon was named in a 1999 HBO documentary as having the largest penis on record, and apparently the “suspicious” bulge drew the attention of the TSA screener, who patted him down and dusted him with explosive-detecting powder before releasing him.

© 2012 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.