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News of the Weird

Man of the People?

Scott Fistler, twice a loser for electoral office in Phoenix, Arizona, as a Republican, decided in November 2013 that his luck might improve as a Democrat with a name change, and legally became “Cesar Chavez,” expecting to poll better in a heavily Hispanic, Democratic congressional district. (“Cesar Chavez” is of course the name of the legendary labor organizer.) Furthermore, according to a June report in the Arizona Capitol Times, “Chavez’s” campaign website features photographs of frenzied supporters holding “Chavez” signs, but which are obviously scenes from the streets of Venezuela at rallies for its late president Hugo Chavez. (At press time for News of the Weird, a judge had removed “Chavez” from the ballot, but only because some qualifying signatures were invalid. “Chavez” promised to appeal.)

Compelling Explanations

• U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Omaha, Nebraska, trying to be helpful, he said, advised female lawyers appearing in his courtroom to lower their hemlines and cover their cleavage because males, including Judge Kopf himself, are “pigs.” Writing in his personal blog in March, he said, “I have been a dirty old man ever since I was a very young man” and that the women in his office are similarly contemptuous of daringly dressed female lawyers. The lifetime-tenured judge later said he regretted any harm to the judiciary that his remarks might have caused.

• Almond Upton, 60, charged with murder for “intentionally” striking a New York state trooper in May with his pickup truck, denied everything. He told reporters following his first court appearance that he is bewildered by the accusation: “I was (close to) the Connecticut border, and all of a sudden, I’m in Binghamton, New York (about 140 miles from Connecticut), and this cop got killed, I don’t know how it happened. It had to be a time warp.”

• The National Security Agency admitted in a June court filing that it had disobeyed two judicial orders to stop deleting accusatory evidence in its databases (which judges had ordered preserved to help determine if the NSA was illegally violating privacy laws). The NSA’s reasoning for its chutzpah: Its data-gathering systems, it claims, are “too complex” to prevent the automatic deletions routinely programmed into its data, and it cannot reprogram to preserve the data without shutting down its entire intelligence-gathering mission. The challenging party (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) called the NSA’s explanation disingenuous and, in fact, further proof that the NSA is incapable of properly managing such massive data-gathering.

• Michael Adrian, 26, was arrested in Lakeville, Minnesota, in June for frightening officials at Lakeville North High School by skateboarding in front of the school, in military dress, face covered by a bandana, with an arrow strapped to his arm, and concealing knives, a box-cutter, a slingshot and pepper spray. Adrian told police he was merely “testing” the school’s security system by “looking like an a**hole.” (A judge ordered a mental evaluation.)


• At an April press conference on a train station platform in Milford, Connecticut, to critique the allegedly shoddy safety record of the Metro-North rail line, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut set up a chart on an easel to illustrate the problem. Suddenly, a train roared through the station and, according to news reports, “nearly” clipped Sen. Blumenthal, who was standing on the yellow platform line that passengers are admonished to stand behind.

• In June, a jury in Fresno, California, decided that Bobby Lee Pearson, 37, was guilty of burglary—but they accidentally signed the “not-guilty” form, instead, and by the time Judge W. Kent Hamlin caught the error, he could not change it (because of “double jeopardy”). Pearson walked out a free man, went to his sister’s home, got into a fight hours later, and was stabbed to death by the sister’s boyfriend.

News That Sounds Like A Joke:

• The animosity between Brevard County (Florida) judge John Murphy and public defender Andrew Weinstock festered over the lawyer’s refusal to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial, but came to a head on June 2, when the judge told Weinstock, “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down.” Weinstock persisted: “I have a right to stand and represent my client.” The judge responded: “If you want to fight, let’s go out back, and I’ll just beat your a**.” And to a back hallway they went, with the lawyer allegedly just intending to talk out their differences. However, according to Weinstock’s supervisor, Judge Murphy immediately grabbed Weinstock and began punching him. Weinstock was not seriously hurt, but vowed to report the incident to the Florida Bar.

• Robert Wallace, 32, a Houston software developer, filed a lawsuit in May to get back some items after a failed romance. According to Wallace, he had loaned a laptop computer, $2,000 cash and his Harry Potter DVDs to his sweetheart, Ms. Nomi Mims, a local stripper. Wallace said the loans were made only because he thought she was in love with him and that they were “building a future together,” but now realizes he was wrong. Mims calls the items “gifts” and noted, “I’ve given him gifts, too. You know, how do I get my booty back?”

Things America Somehow Still Can’t Figure Out (Even Though We’re Smart Enough to Send a Robot to Mars)

• (1) Authorities somehow could not prevent an inmate serving life at a North Carolina prison from arranging, via a contraband cellphone, to have the 63-year-old father of his prosecutor kidnapped and tortured. (The FBI managed to rescue the man five days after his abduction.) (2) The U.S. State Department somehow cannot arrange safe haven for Afghan interpreters who risked their lives daily serving U.S. combat troops and who face almost certain retaliation by militants once Americans have departed. Even the coordinator of the interpreter program, who applied for a U.S. visa in 2012, has not been approved (according to a March 2014 New York Times dispatch).

World-Class Brazil

• The sailing events at the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held on Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, but dire warnings have been issued about the filthy, squalid condition of the bay and the near impossibility of a timely cleanup. A New York Times reporter, in a May dispatch, cited car tires, floating mattresses, dog carcasses, a partly submerged sofa and free-flowing untreated raw sewage. A Brazilian competitive sailor admitted that he had personally seen four human corpses in the bay. (By comparison, for the Beijing Olympics, 1,000 cleanup boats were dispatched just to remove algae from the sailing venue, but only three cleanup boats are operating on Guanabara now, with merely several dozen planned.)

• Arachnophobes (and their snake-fearing cousins, the ophidiophobes) may be in for an interesting 2016 Summer Olympics, in that Brazil seems to be one giant incubator of the scariest insects and vipers on the planet. Chief among them, reported the Wall Street Journal in June, are the Brazilian wandering spider—the world’s most poisonous and, in addition, the size of a dinner plate—whose venom at least owns the “redeeming” value of momentarily giving bitten men erections. Off the coast of Sao Paulo is the uninhabited (and barred to visitors) Ilha de Queimada Grande, overrun by the super-deadly golden lancehead pit viper (whose population may be as many as five snakes per square meter of land area).

Recurring Themes

• (1) A British National Health Service hospital in Stockton, England, apparently failed to learn from a 2012 tragedy at Scarborough Hospital when, in May, a patient caught fire during surgery. (Tip for Next Time: Either no alcohol sterilizers or no electricity-made incisions.) (2) In the latest creative image-enhancer by a municipal sewage plant, Seattle’s Brightwater Treatment facility is offering to rent its indoor rooms ($2,000 for eight hours) as a wedding venue. According to an official, there is space for 260 guests, including full kitchen—and the plant is reputed to be a “zero odor” facility.

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