News of the Weird: Robot Squirrels and Food Stamps For Plastic Surgery

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No Do-Overs: By 2009, James Washington believed he had gotten away with a 1995 murder, but then he had a heart attack, and on his deathbed, in a fit of remorse, he confessed to a confidant. (“I have to get something off my conscience,” he told a guard in the jailhouse where he was serving time for a lesser, unrelated offense.) However, Washington miraculously recovered from the heart attack and tried to take back his confession, but prosecutors in Nashville, Tenn., were unfazed. They used it to augment the sparse evidence from 1995, and in October 2012 the now-healthier Washington was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 51 more years in prison.

Government in Action

-Among the federally funded projects highlighted in the “2012 Waste Book” of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn were a $325,000 grant to develop a “robosquirrel” (to help study the somehow-confusing interaction between squirrels and rattlesnakes) and a $700,000 grant by the National Science Foundation for a New York theater company to create a musical about climate change and biodiversity (which actually opened this year, in Kansas City, and included among its concepts, according to one critic, “flying monkey poop”). Abuses of the food stamp program were also detailed, such as by one exotic dancer who, while earning $85,000, drew food stamps in an amount roughly equivalent to the sum she spent on “cosmetic enhancements.”

-While the Department of Veterans Affairs remains under criticism for inadequate funding for personnel disabled in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it spent in 2010 more than $5 million on training conferences just to teach bureaucrats how to administer parts of its latest collective-bargaining contract, according to an October report in the Washington Examiner. In fact, reported the Examiner, $34 million in payroll goes to department officials who work mainly on union-related activities.

Great Art!

-“I wanted to create a self-portrait that was completely stripped of ... visual prejudice,” said Polish-born New York artist Martynka Wawrzyniak, who thus chose the medium of “smell” for her gallery showing in New York City (running through mid-November). For starters, she “scientifically extracted” her hair oils, armpit perspiration and tears (to protest humans' cloaking themselves in deodorant soaps and laundry powders), and blasted visitors with whiffs of it as they entered the gallery.

-Because We Can: The Tate Liverpool museum in England was host on Oct. 19 to artist Kerry Morrison's Bird Sheet music project in which she laid down a giant blank musical score sheet under a tree and waited for birds to make “deposits” on it, which she took to represent “notes” that composer Jon Hering plans to play straight, as the “sound” of the blackbirds.

Democracy in Action

-Getting Out the Vote: (1) Just before a primary election in June, Albuquerque, N.M., TV station KOB apparently caught, on camera, a poll worker for two county government candidates offering potential voters miniature bottles of whiskey to sip during free rides to early voting centers. (2) Los Angeles' KCBS-TV reported in October that leaflets sponsored by the Progress and Collaboration Slate for its local candidates in Eagle Rock, Calif., also mentioned an offer of $40 worth of “medical-grade marijuana” as incentive for voting. (3) Carme Cristina Lima, 32, running for town councillor in Itacoatiara, Brazil, was arrested in October for allegedly passing out cocaine packets attached to her campaign leaflets.

-Colleen Lachowicz won her contest for a Maine state senate seat in November despite ridicule by opponents for her admitted devotion to the online game World of Warcraft. “Certainly,” said an opposing-party official, “the fact that she spends so much time on a video game says something about her work ethic and ... immaturity.” Her WoW character is Santiaga, an “orc (Level 85) assassination rogue” with green skin, fangs, a Mohawk and pointy ears.

-In several high-profile races across the country in November, voters rejected candidates who had been accused of wrongdoing and corruption, but Brian Banks survived. He was elected as a Michigan state representative from Detroit, with 68 percent of the vote, even though his rap sheet includes eight felony convictions for bad checks and credit card fraud. (Campaign slogan: “You Can Bank on Banks.”) Also, Michigan's 11th Congressional District elected reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio, whose brother had described him as “mentally unbalanced.”

Police Report

Michael Carrier, 45, was arrested for soliciting prostitution in New Milford, Conn., in August — not resulting from a police sting, which is usually how arrests for that crime are made. In Carrier's case, he was disturbing other customers at a Friendly's restaurant because, being hard of hearing, he was shouting to the prostitute the terms of their prospective business arrangement.

Perspective

Neurosurgeon Denise Crute left Colorado in 2005 after admitting to four serious mistakes (including wrong-side surgeries on patients' brain and spine) and left Illinois several years after that, when the state medical board concluded that she made three more serious mistakes (including another wrong-side spine surgery). Nonetheless, she was not formally “disciplined” by either state in that she was permitted merely to “surrender” her licenses, which the profession does not regard as “discipline.” In November, Denver's KMGH-TV reported that Dr. Crute had landed a job at the prestigious Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, where she treats post-surgery patients (and she informed Illinois officials recently that she is fully licensed in New York to resume performing neurosurgery).

People Different From Us

Among the contestants so far on this year's The Learning Channel cable TV series “Extreme Cheapskates”: “Roy” of Huntington, Vt., who reuses dental floss; Jeff Yeager of Accokeek, Md., who combs butcher shops for odd animal parts about to be discarded; and “Victoria” of Columbus, Ohio, who specializes in Dumpster-diving and infrequent toilet flushes that involve, according to one report, personalized urine jars. The season's star is expected to be “Kay,” from New York, who is shown on camera demonstrating the nonessential nature of toilet paper by wiping herself with soap and water while seated on the throne.

Least Competent Criminals

Rookie Mistakes: (1) Arthur Bundrage, 28, was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., in October after he returned to the Alliance Bank -- which he had just robbed minutes earlier -- because he discovered that the employee had given him less than the $20,000 his demand note ordered. Officers arrived to find Bundrage standing by the front doors, trying to get back in. (2) A September theft from a sofa superstore in Northampton, England, ended badly for two men, who had just loaded a pair of couches (worth the equivalent of about $650 each) into their truck and were about to drive off. However, the store manager rushed out and, noticing the truck's unfastened back door, reached in and pulled the sofas out, leaving the men to drive away empty-handed. The sequence was captured on surveillance video, leading store owner Mark Kypta to liken it to “something out of a Benny Hill film.”

Readers' Choice

(1) In October, a 2-foot-long shark fell from the sky and landed near the 12th tee at the San Juan Hills Golf Club in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. A security guard saw the incident, and an attendant placed the shark in a bucket of water (with some salt) and drove it four miles to the Pacific Ocean. (Best guess among observers: An osprey or peregrine falcon had snatched it from the ocean but eventually lost its grip.) (2) In October, a major fire mysteriously started inside Red Lion Liquors (in, coincidentally, Burnsville, Minn.). Since nothing spark-producing was found, fire officials guessed that sunlight, magnified through vodka bottles, had ignited surrounding paper signs, and the heat eventually pressured the vodka bottles' tops to burst, exacerbating the flames. Firefighters, even, appeared amazed, with one quoted as saying, “This is so cool!”

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