NEWS OF THE WEIRD
Reverse affirmative action
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 highestscoring 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. ¦
. 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.)
. 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 Vaticancertified 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, Judge 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.)
. 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.”
. Once hired, almost no federal employee ever leaves. Turnover is so slight that, among the typical causes for workers leaving, “death by natural causes” is more likely the reason than “fired for poor job performance.” According to a July USA Today report, the federal rate of termination for poor performance is less than one-fifth the private sector’s, and the annual retention rate for all federal employees was 99.4 percent (and for white collar and upper-income workers, more than 99.8 percent). Government defenders said the numbers reflect excellence in initial recruitment.
. In January, Alison Murray purchased her first-ever home, in Aberdeen, Scotland, but was informed in August that she has to relocate, temporarily, because the house has become infested with bats, which cannot be disturbed, under Scottish and European law, once they settle in. Conservation officials advised her that she could probably move back in November, when the bats leave to hibernate. ¦
. 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.
. NYPD officer James Seiferheld, 47, still receives his $52,365 annual disability pay despite relentless efforts by the department to fire him. He had retired in 2004 on disability, but was ordered back to work when investigators found him doing physical work inconsistent with “disability.” However, Mr. Seiferheld could not return to work because he repeatedly failed drug screening (for cocaine). Meanwhile, his appeal of the disability denial went to the state Court of Appeals, which found a procedural error and ordered that Mr. Seiferheld’s “disability” benefits continue (even though the city has proven both that he is physically able and a substance-abuser).
. In April, Robert Williams conscientiously completed his San Diego police officers’ application, answering truthfully, he said, questions 172 (yes, he had had sexual contact with a child) and 175 (yes, he had “viewed or transacted” child pornography). Three weeks later, the police had not only rejected his application but arrested him. Mr. Williams’ wife, Sunem, said the police department has “integrity” problems because “telling the truth during the hiring process brings prosecution...” ¦
(Not so) 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Villamil lost consciousness and died in a hospital five days later. ¦