News of the Weird
• More than a halfmillion children in the US take antipsychotic medicines and (reported the New York Times in September) “[e]ven the most reluctant [doctors] encounter a marketing juggernaut that has made antipsychotics the nation’s top-selling class of drugs by revenue, $14.6 billion last year, with prominent promotions aimed at treating children.”
In one psychiatrist’s waiting room, observed the Times reporter, “[C]hildren played with Legos stamped with the word Risperdal” (an antipsychotic made by Johnson & Johnson). (The company, which recently lost its patent on the drug, said it has stopped handing out the toys — which it insisted were not toys at all but advertising reminders for doctors.)
The Litigious Society
• Three self-described bisexual men filed a federal lawsuit in April against the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance for disqualifying them from the Gay Softball World Series in Seattle in 2008 because they were not sufficiently gay. Teams were limited to two heterosexuals, and when the men’s team won second place, questions were raised about the three until organizers took them aside and asked “intrusive” questions about their sexual attractions and desires. Ultimately, they were disqualified as being too straight. (The alliance acknowledged that it has no standards for judging gayness level, but explained, as a private organization, that it is not subject to federal law.)
• Justine Winter, 17, who was badly injured in a car crash in Flathead County, Mont. in March 2009, filed a lawsuit in July 2010 against the pregnant driver whom she had hit and killed (along with the woman’s 13-year-old son). However, the local prosecutor has already charged Winter with two counts of homicide, based on text messages she had sent her estranged boyfriend minutes before the crash. “If I won [you],” she texted, “I would have you… and I wouldn’t crash my car.” Also, “That’s why I’m going to wreck my car. Because all I can do is f**k up. Because I am a terrible person, and I know it.” Also, “Good bye… my last words.” That was then; nowadays, Winter says the woman she hit was driving negligently and that construction companies failed to maintain the roadway properly.
• Craig Smallwood of Hawaii filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year against the makers of the online virtual-world game Lineage II for failing to warn him that he would become so addicted to playing it that he would be “unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends.” (He claims to have spent 20,000 hours over five years playing.) In August, Judge Alan Kay declined to dismiss the lawsuit and set it for trial.
• Between suicide, murder, assault, drunken driving and drug use, the soldiers of the 4 th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, at Fort Bliss, Texas have been statistically in greater peril while stateside than while deployed in Iraq. “Being back [home] is what we don’t do well,” Lt. Col. David Wilson told the New York Times in July. During the last year in Iraq, the brigade lost only one soldier to combat, but in the previous year stateside, seven were killed and four people died in crimes committed by brigade personnel.
• Challenging times for labor unions: (1) At a rally in Washington DC in July denouncing employers who hire nonunion carpenters, many of the chanting protesters were nonunion day workers hired by the carpenters’ union to make the demonstration look bigger, according to a Wall Street Journal report. (2) In August, Jim Callaghan, a long-time writer on the headquarters staff of the United Federation of Teachers, was fired after trying to organize his colleagues into their own union local. Callaghan said that UFT staff deserve the same protections as the teachers they represent. (A UFT spokesman said most UFT employees are already unionized.)
• The Republican candidate for governor of Colorado, Dan Maes, explained in August that he began the campaign supporting “green” programs, such as Denver’s innovative “bikesharing” project, but that he has rethought his position. Now, he told reporters, environmental programs are, in reality, plots. “[I]f you do your homework and research, you realize that [encouraging people to park their cars and ride bikes in the city] is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.”
• The New South Wales (Australia) anticorruption commission, at a hearing in August, got engineer Don Gamage to admit that he “exaggerated” his credentials to get a series of government contracts. Nonetheless, Gamage was defiant: “If I didn’t exaggerate,” he explained, “the people of NSW… would have missed [out on] the service and the benefit that I delivered.”
• Bruce Tuck, who confessed in December to a series of rapes in Martin, Tenn. and was sentenced to 60 years in prison (and who faces still more charges), tried to withdraw his confession in June, complaining that he was not of sound mind at the time because, though weighing 275 pounds, he was being held in jail on a “lettuce-only” diet. Thus, he said, he was unusually vulnerable when a detective offered him a bag of chips to admit to the charges.
Civilization in Decline
• After an historic site along the lower Jordan River was closed for a day in July for public health reasons, an environmental group, EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth (Middle East), called for a permanent suspension until the governments of Israel and Jordan (on either side of the river) assure that it is safe from agricultural discharge and untreated sewage. Facing sites on the river both claim to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, and pilgrims flock to the sites to be baptized, as well.
Least Competent Criminals
• Lame: (1) Gerald Maxwell, 39, a convicted burglar who was caught in August breaking into the same Sarasota, Fla. home he had broken into last year, quickly tried to explain his innocence to officers. “I was going back in there to leave a thank-you note, because I’m the guy who burglarized this place last year [and] I just got out of jail.” (2) Terrance Mitchell was arrested in Waterloo, Iowa in July, identified from video as the man who tried to shoplift surveillance equipment from a store. Mitchell was thus apparently unaware that stores that sell surveillance equipment might operate surveillance cameras.
• Michael Peterson was convicted in 2003 of murdering his wife, Kathleen, and sentenced to life in prison in North Carolina, but T. Lawrence Pollard, who was one of Peterson’s lawyers, has relentlessly offered the alternative theory (though not during Peterson’s trial) that Mrs. Peterson was instead killed by a rogue owl one night in her home. Earlier this year, Raleigh’s News & Observer wrote a series on deficiencies in the state’s original investigation (though not about owls), and Pollard filed affidavits in August — one by an owl expert that Mrs. Peterson’s injuries were consistent with an attack by “a large bird of prey” and the other by scientists who offered to DNA-test what investigators say might be a faint microscopic “feather” from the crime scene.
A News of the Weird Classic (January 2000)
• The lawyer for a former Fort Lauderdale, Fla. phone-sex worker announced to reporters in November (1999) that he had won a workers’ compensation settlement for his client based on her claim of carpal tunnel syndrome due to being encouraged to masturbate on the job as much as seven times a day. Steven Slootsky said his client (who declined to be publicly identified) accepted the settlement to avoid the embarrassment of testifying, even though the money is not enough to reimburse her for the surgery she required on both hands.
‘© 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate