Lead Stories

In January the engineers and hobbyists of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society told reporters they hoped to begin dropping bowling balls onto Utah’s salt flats from high-flying aircraft. Members were frustrated by their failure to find any meteorite impact sites on the flats, and guessed that the behavior of the bowling balls–whether they punched through the salt crust, bounced, or exploded–would give them a better idea what to look for. A few days later, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management put the plan on ice: it reminded the society of the weather station personnel, race car enthusiasts, and geologists regularly on the salt flats, and said it was a bad idea to drop bowling balls around them.

In December in Texas, death-row inmate Leonard Rojas was executed, but two months later three of the nine members of the state’s highest criminal court concluded that the lawyer appointed to handle Rojas’s appeals had been woefully incompetent. The lawyer, David K. Chapman, by his own admission did only cursory work: he rarely met with Rojas, failed to investigate the case, and by missing a filing deadline barred Rojas from a federal appeal. Even worse, Chapman was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time, which he confesses affected his performance, and during the case he was slapped with a probationary suspension by the Texas bar–the third time he’d been so disciplined.

Readers’ Choice

A race-discrimination lawsuit brought by two black sisters (Grace Fuller, 48, and Louise Sawyer, 46) against Southwest Airlines was scheduled to go to trial in Kansas City, Kansas, earlier this week. A white flight attendant on the sisters’ plane, in a hurry to get passengers seated, allegedly recited Southwest’s version of an old children’s rhyme: “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe / Pick a seat, we gotta go.” Because the rhyme has a racist history–years ago the second line was often rendered “Catch a nigger by his toe”–the sisters say they felt alienated (and apparently believe they are due some money).

Nation at War

In February the U.S. Navy announced a shortage of “morticians” and offered sign-up bonuses of $6,000 (but denied its predicament was related to the impending war in Iraq). And according to British newspaper the Sun, both George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein own the same $945 handmade shoes from Italy’s Vito Artioli (Bush in size ten, Hussein in nine and a half).

The Litigious Society

In February a 23-year-old woman who’d been secretly videotaped changing clothes in the office of a talent agency in Brighton, Michigan, convinced a jury that this one humiliating experience was worth $575,250. She claims that aftereffects from the incident have been so severe–though she hasn’t sought counseling or taken medication for them–that she’s given up her career as a model and will never trust people again.

Something Else to Worry About

In January the medical editor of London’s Daily Telegraph reported on a family doctor in western England who’s been summoned to a formal hearing before his primary-care trust for refusing to certify a male patient for a Pap smear. The man sincerely believes he is a hermaphrodite, but physicians can find no evidence of that (in fact, the patient has fathered a child). At least one of the beleaguered doctor’s colleagues suggested appeasing the man, and said he’d be “pleased to hear from anyone…who could teach him the correct way to carry out a cervical smear on a 34-year-old male.”

People Different From Us

In January in Houma, Louisiana, 22-year-old Kenneth Patrick Porche Jr. was arrested outside the ladies’ room of a Dillard’s department store with four plastic bags of urine (and several more empty bags) concealed in his jacket, some bearing labels such as “old woman.” Police said they believed that Porche would disable a toilet’s flush mechanism and line the bowl with a plastic film, then hide in an adjacent stall. After a woman used the toilet and left, Porche would collect and bag the urine. Police, unsure how to classify his behavior, charged him with criminal mischief (a misdemeanor) and “ritualistic acts” (a felony).

Least Competent Criminals

In February in Hickory, North Carolina, two women were arrested (and two men were still being sought by police) in connection with a failed counterfeit-check scheme; though the counterfeiters used computer software that produced what police called “impressive” bogus payroll checks, none of them noticed that a check from Broyhill Furniture misspelled the name “Boryhill Furmiture.”

In the Last Month

In Louisville, Kentucky, a distillery worker sent around 1,800 gallons of tequila into the sewer system when he tried to empty a tanker truck into a tank that was already full….In Newcastle upon Tyne, England, circus clown Gavin Riley, 37, was jailed for two years for beating up his girlfriend because she wouldn’t come watch him perform….And early warm weather brought out hordes of cutworms and army worms in northern New Mexico, which covered roads and invaded homes; entomologists reminded citizens not to worry, since the worms would turn into moths in a few weeks anyway.

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