Government in Action!
-For years, U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall (of the Select Committee on Intelligence) have been asking the director of National Intelligence to disclose how often the government might be “overcollecting” information on U.S. citizens by too enthusiastically applying the Patriot Act, but the director's office has maintained that such information, whether or not it reveals wrongdoing, is classified. In July, the office finally declassified one fact that it said the senators were free to use: that the government had “on at least one occasion” overcollected information in violation of constitutional protections -- but that's all. The number of times, and all other details, remain classified.
-In August, a Michigan government watchdog group learned, in a Freedom of Information Act request, that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department still to this day retains one job classification for a horseshoer. (The department owns no horses.) Over the years, the position has become a patronage slot paying about $57,000 a year in salary and benefits, sometimes requiring the “horseshoer” to do “blacksmith” work such as metal repair. (Because of severe budget cuts, the city employees' union fights to retain every job, no matter its title.)
-Are We Safe? In August, the former director of Homeland Security's office in charge of shoring up the nation's chemical plants against terrorist attacks told CBS News that, five years after Homeland Security started the chemical program, “90 percent” of the 5,000 most vulnerable plants have still not even been inspected. The official, Todd Keil, said that when he left the job in February, $480 million had been spent, but that no plant had a “site security plan” and that management of the program was “a catastrophic failure.” (A July Government Accountability Office report confirmed that 4,400 chemical plants had not been properly inspected.)
-(1) KETV (Omaha, Neb.) reported in September that local mother Andrea Kirby had decided to give away her stored-up breast milk to a family in greater need. She had amassed a freezer-full of 44 gallons for her now-8-month-old child. (2) How Hard Could Medical School Be? Tokyo police arrested Miyabi Kuroki, 43, in September, and charged him with forging a medical license in 2009 and subsequently treating patients at a Tokyo hospital, providing, among other things, examinations and electrocardiogram counseling. Hospital officials estimate he “treated” 2,300 patients before being caught.
-Photographer Clayton Cubitt's video-art exhibit “Hysterical Literature” (the first installment of which was reviewed in August) features an attractive woman sitting at a table reading mainstream literature aloud (“everything from Walt Whitman to a science book on fungus”), but in a sexy voice and accompanied by squirming in the chair prompted by unspecified activities of a “distractor” agent supplied by Cubitt. After a few minutes, it is clear that the woman is experiencing an orgasm. Cubitt told Salon.com that he was mocking the “quack Victorian medical theory of 'hysteria' in women.”
-Without the work of scientists Gregory Gage and Tim Marzullo, we might never know the effect of playing a loud hip-hop song to create vibrations that make squids' pigmented cells change colors. The men's Backyard Brains setup involved a 1993 Cypress Hill hit (“Insane in the Brain”), an iPod nano, and a “suction electrode” to jar a Longfin Inshore's muscles to reveal the squid's “chromatophores” that are either red, brown or yellow. A Time magazine writer gave her take on the work's reason for being: “Because really, you know, why not?”
-Canadian artist Taras Polataiko's two-week-long live re-creation of “Sleeping Beauty” was featured through early September at Ukraine's National Art Museum in Kiev, with an unexpected outcome. Five women had been chosen to fall asleep daily and, by signed contract, to agree to marry the first man who awakened them with a single kiss (thus to witness “the birth of love,” according to Polataiko). Only one awoke during the exhibit, but since that payoff kiss was applied by a female gallery-goer, the contract could not be fulfilled in that Ukraine forbids same-sex marriage.
The Litigious Society
-Francesco Piserchia, 36, filed a $17 million lawsuit in August against Bergen County, N.J., police, and individual officers, for being shot following a wild, high-speed car chase through residential neighborhoods in 2010. Although Piserchia and an associate had nearly hit a squad car and were fleeing on foot after their car crashed, they claim the police had no reason to shoot at them because, just moments before the shots, the men had decided to surrender. (In a separate matter, two officers involved were indicted by a grand jury in August for tampering with evidence in the case.)
-An unnamed passenger on the Russian rail company Krasprigorod won a lawsuit in September for his 2010 experience of being stuck in a crowded train station for two hours and having to endure “moral suffering” from exposure to other passengers cussing. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that the lawsuit (which also noted physical injuries including having his feet stepped on) originally asked the equivalent of $1,550 but that the court in Krasnoyarsk awarded much less.
People Who Are a Mess
-Ihor Stetkewycz appeared in court in Warren, Mich., in June to answer for an indecent exposure incident, brought on, he told the judge, because his pants, purchased by his mother, were “10 sizes” too large. According to police sources, Stetkewycz had also recently dumped large sections of a tree in the middle of a Detroit street; had protection orders against him from two Warren neighbors; was late to the hearing in June because he raced down Interstate 94 chasing his allegedly stolen car that he had spotted on the way to court; and told a female TV reporter inquiring about the tree stumps, “I don't take no orders from no woman, by the way.” He did promise to go clean up the tree parts: “I'm Mr. Clean Up.”
Least Competent Criminals
-Dakoda Garren, 19, was arrested in Vancouver, Wash., in September on suspicion of stealing an antique coin collection in May that was estimated to be worth $100,000. Garren and his girlfriend were identified after spending some of the coins at a movie theater and a pizza restaurant, using rare Liberty Head quarters (worth from $5 to $18,500) at their face value.