Lead Stories

In December in Punta Gorda, Florida, inmate James “Happy” Borland, 41, suffered a near-fatal skull fracture during a fight with fellow prisoners Lemuel “K-Money” Ware and Corey Andrews, which began when Borland accused Ware of stealing his pet spider and renaming it “Pinky.” Borland demanded the spider back, and Andrews intervened; Ware, who insists he purchased the spider fair and square, claims he then attacked Borland because Pinky told him to “hit him.” The fate of the spider, which had been riding in a small box in Ware’s shirt pocket, is unknown.

In December in Portland, Oregon, after the police chief defied a local judge and insisted that officers could legally seize and search curbside garbage without a warrant (arguing that it becomes public property when discarded), reporters from Willamette Week dug through garbage and recycling put out by the chief, the district attorney, and the mayor (technically the chief’s superior) and published an inventory of each official’s trash. They found evidence that the DA enjoys pekoe tea and that the mayor enjoys watching dog shows and figure skating, but didn’t uncover a whiff of scandal. Nonetheless, when told that reporters had searched their garbage under cover of night, the chief got hostile and the mayor “went nuclear,” threatening legal action.

Readers’ Choice

The erstwhile Bob Craft, a power lineman in Montana, filed a lawsuit in November against Viacom, which owns MTV, claiming that the program (and movie) Jackass has defamed him–in that five years ago, after Craft’s brother was killed in a single-vehicle alcohol-related crash, he began a national campaign against drunk driving, legally changing his name to “Jack Ass” to draw attention to his efforts. Ass claims that the TV show and movie have damaged his reputation to the tune of at least $10 million.

Government in Action

In December in Honolulu, state authorities raided the shop of antiquities dealer Don Medcalf and charged him with possessing “indigenous wildlife” without a license, in the process confiscating 52 endangered birds. However, the birds were all stuffed specimens killed in the late 1800s, not just before the species were declared endangered but before Hawaii was even a state. (Some have been extinct for nearly a century.) In January the prosecutor dropped the case.

Great Art!

In September in upstate New York, Purchase College art student Nathan Banks, 22, painted words on about 60 cows to see if their meandering would inadvertently cause them to form poems. And in December in Northumberland, England, 48-year-old Valerie Laws did the same thing with sheep (except that she used only the words from a poem she’d written, to see if the sheep would form another poem). An arts council had granted Ms. Laws about $3,200 for her project, which she said would “explore randomness and…quantum mechanics, through poetry, using…sheep.”

Creme de la Weird

In Red Bluff, California, 23-year-old Andrew McCrae allegedly shot and killed a police officer in November and fled to Concord, New Hampshire, where he was arrested. According to messages he apparently posted on the Web, McCrae hoped to draw attention to the evils of globalization and corporate irresponsibility. He had incorporated himself in New Hampshire in an attempt to achieve immunity from prosecution: under WTO rules, corporations are often bound by the laws of their home countries, not by those of the countries where they do business, and McCrae believed that, by analogy, New Hampshire’s constitution would guarantee his right to revolution in California. The name of his company was Proud and Insolent Youth, after an epithet Captain Hook hurls at Peter Pan.

Least Competent Criminals

In November in Dingwall, Scotland, Blair MacKay was fined about $650 for invasion of privacy; according to testimony his great-aunt, on the phone to a friend, had warned the other woman that MacKay was probably tapping the line, and as soon as she hung up, MacKay called her to protest that “I don’t listen in to phone conversations.”

Recurring Themes

In October in Hong Kong, 39-year-old Ng Lai Ping complained because an official at the city’s central library demanded she stop breast-feeding her 22-month-old son in public, handing her a leaflet explaining the library’s ban on food and drink.

Our Civilization in Decline

London’s Guardian reported in December that Nestle continues to demand about $6 million from Ethiopia because its government nationalized a Nestle subsidiary 28 years ago. Ethiopia is suffering from its worst famine in 20 years, and according to the aid group Oxfam, $6 million would feed a million people for a month.

In the Last Month

In Claiborne County, Tennessee, 24 residents of a nursing home tested positive for marijuana, but the results turned out to be false positives caused by a prescription drug for acid reflux….Among the “first babies” this January 1: a girl born to a lesbian couple in Bethesda, Maryland (produced by artificial insemination), and a boy born in Spring Hill, Florida, to a father with an outstanding probation violation (who was picked up by police who’d seen a news story on his son)….And Castaways Travel of Houston has booked a May 3 clothing-optional Boeing 727 flight to Cancun, Mexico; the crew will remain dressed.

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