Lead Story

According to a May report in the New York Times, during a six- to eight-week period each spring in certain parts of Vermont and Virginia it’s legal to use firearms to hunt pike and several other types of fish. Armed with pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles, fish shooters (some of whom wait in “fish blinds” built in overhanging branches) aim for the water just in front of their prey’s head to kill by concussion, as a direct hit renders the fish inedible. “They just kind of shatter,” one hunter explained.

Democracy Blues

In late May the West Virginia secretary of state ordered the town of Littleton (population 217) to hold its June 8 municipal election as scheduled, even though no one was running for any of the seven offices and the deadline for registering as a write-in candidate had come and gone. Voter turnout on polling day was zero (down from 19 in 2002), and the town has petitioned the county to dissolve its charter. And in a speech marking International Women’s Day (March 8), President Hamid Karzai made this appeal to the men of Afghanistan: “Please, my dear brothers, let your wives and sisters go to the voter registration process. Later, you can control who she votes for, but please, let her go.”

Government in Action

Another New York Times dispatch (in April), about the efforts of U.S. Representative Don Young to secure federal pork for his home state of Alaska, described two bridges proposed in the recent national highway bill that may eventually cost taxpayers as much as $2.2 billion. One–taller, as designed, than the Brooklyn Bridge and almost as long as the Golden Gate–would connect Ketchikan (population 7,845) with an island that’s home to 50 residents and the town’s modest airport, currently reachable via a five-minute ferry ride. The other would connect Anchorage to what the Times describes as “a port that has a single regular tenant and almost no homes or businesses.”

Universal Health Care (for Prisoners): Last month in Wilmington, North Carolina, a judge ordered that Shirley Spaulding, 65, be released without bond as she awaits trial for first-degree murder. Spaulding, who suffers from a severe respiratory ailment but is uninsured, has cost Brunswick County nearly $400,000 in medical expenses since she was arrested in April 2003 for allegedly paying two men to kill her husband 18 years earlier. She poses no flight risk–she’s too sick to leave the hospital–so her release simply means the state, which is seeking the death penalty in her case, can’t continue to bill the county for the $6,000-a-week expense of keeping her alive.

Donnie Newsome, the chief executive officer of Knott County, Kentucky, was convicted in October 2003 of buying votes, detained pending sentencing because of alleged threats to witnesses, and sentenced in March 2004 to 26 months in prison. But since Kentucky law does not permit the removal of convicted officials until their appeals are exhausted, Newsome still manages the county’s affairs from a jail cell in Lexington, getting weekly briefings from an assistant during visiting hours.

Criminals Dealing With Disabilities

In May, William Basil Armstrong, 56, allegedly attempted to rob a Clark Mart in Akron, Ohio, at gunpoint, but the clerk, Imran Surani, noting Armstrong’s frail appearance and the bulletproof glass separating them, ignored his threats. When Armstrong fled, Surani ran after him and tackled him. After allegedly trying to shoot Surani, then dropping the gun, Armstrong asked if someone would go get his oxygen tank from his car. And in November 2003, 48-year-old Mark Shleifer, who is legally blind, pleaded guilty in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to possessing more than 1,000 images of child pornography.

Defense du Jour

Joseph Micale, 34, charged with manslaughter in the death of his wife, said she died while he was choking her, with her consent, during sex (Syracuse, New York, January). Sheila Davalloo, 34, was convicted of attempted murder, though she claimed she had accidentally stabbed her husband during a consensual sex game in which he was blindfolded and handcuffed and had to guess what she was touching him with. It was a four-inch paring knife (Pleasantville, New York, February). And Donald Marks, 40, pleaded no contest to killing (and then beheading) a 38-year-old woman, though his lawyer had planned to argue that she died while he was choking her in consensual rough sex (Honolulu, May).

More Things to Worry About

In a small crime wave that hit south Philadelphia late last year, gangs of 5 to 15 men randomly attacked a succession of pedestrians and bicyclists, seemingly for fun. One of the eight victims was shot, another was stabbed, but only one was robbed; in at least three of the incidents, the attackers wore boxing gloves to beat up their victims. And in April the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Patriot Act but under the Patriot Act couldn’t publicly reveal that it had done so. (A judge ruled three weeks later that the ACLU could put out a heavily censored news release describing its complaint.)

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