Lead Story

According to a December Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, Derek Leroy McSmith of Clayton County, Georgia, has filed 10,618 open-records requests with the Forest City government since April, at one point asking for 835 items in a single day. Each request must be logged in and processed, and for months a city clerk has been forced to spend nearly her entire 40-hour workweek handling McSmith’s inquiries. McSmith says he’s simply satisfying his curiosity about how government works, but a librarian says she once saw him check out 100 books, then walk outside and drop them into the return bin. Several officials have complained that after they locate his documents, he only glances at them (or, if he must pay a fee, declines them outright). A local First Amendment advocate says the situation represents “one of the downsides of a free and open society.”

News That Sounds Like a Joke

In November police in Brooklyn, New York, set up a sting and arrested a 40-year-old man and his 22-year-old accomplice for kidnapping a teenager and demanding $20,000 in ransom from his mother; earlier in the day the pair had released their victim (who went straight home), but they continued to demand the money–so the mother arranged a rendezvous, supposedly to hand over the cash, and when the kidnappers arrived the cops were waiting. And in December the Miami Herald described a rare condition among museumgoers that results from viewing certain powerful works of art (or viewing too much art in a short time): symptoms of “Stendahl’s syndrome” include dizziness, panic, paranoia, and madness. No one interviewed for the story had ever seen a case.

Compelling Explanations

In a deposition taken in March during his divorce proceedings and made public in November, Neil Bush (the president’s younger brother) admitted that he’d had sex with several women while on business trips in Asia, but insisted he hadn’t sought them out–they had in fact simply come to his door. Said his ex-wife’s lawyer, “Mr. Bush, you have to admit it’s a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her.” Responded Bush, “It was very unusual.”

In October in Hennepin County, Minnesota, 38-year-old Rafiq Abdul Mortland was sentenced to eight to ten years in prison for holding up eight local stores; he’d earned the nickname “Rolaids Robber” by asking clerks to hand over antacid tablets during his heists. When police asked him to explain, Mortland said he needed the antacid because of the stress that came from committing the crimes.

In December in Boca Raton, Florida, the parents of a brain-damaged teenage girl, who’d inhaled nitrous oxide from a “whippet” cartridge just before the car crash that caused her injuries, filed a lawsuit against the video store where she bought the cartridges. A manager at the store explained that, although he sells the whippets from an “adult” room, he believes that his customers just want to make their own whipped cream.

The Latest Human Rights

In September a government appeals tribunal in Melbourne, Australia, reversed itself and ruled that the organizers of a lesbian festival could not in fact limit attendance to “female-born” lesbians–such a policy would discriminate against transsexual lesbians. The organizers had said they needed to exclude ex-males in order to affirm their identity and “consolidate [their] culture.”

Spain’s Catalonian High Court ruled in November that Barcelona construction company Perez Parellada Promotions had improperly fired a supervisor for smoking marijuana on the job, finding that he’d only smoked during meal breaks or after hours and hadn’t smoked enough to endanger anyone or affect his work.

Least Competent Criminals

In November 35-year-old Michael Patrick Mikitka was arrested and charged with committing six bank robberies in one week in the Pittsburgh area, including one in which he’d written the holdup note on a starter check issued to him when he’d opened an account at that same bank. He was caught at the PNC Bank in Wilkinsburg after a security guard stopped him on his way out the door and said the teller needed to see him again; Mikitka walked back in, the manager locked the doors, and the guard grabbed him. Pending trial, Mikitka was sent to a drug rehab center, but he left the facility on December 22 and was arrested again the next day after allegedly robbing a National City bank he’d hit twice during his November spree.

In the Last Month

In Perth, Australia, a woman was charged with dangerous driving after she tied the child seat carrying her 20-month-old infant to one of her car’s back doors to keep it from swinging open. In Belas, Portugal, about 50 inmates at a new prison refused to eat their special Christmas lunches because the bread wasn’t freshly baked as usual–most bakeries had closed late the day before for the holiday. And in Fort Myers, Florida, a 29-year-old woman allegedly ordered her 11-year-old daughter to help her shoplift clothing, including some items she planned to return to the girl as Christmas presents.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.