Lead Story

Tension is brewing between Zell Kravinsky, 48, and his family over his extraordinary altruism, according to an August profile in the New York Times. Not only is Kravinsky a passionate philanthropist (he’s already given away $15 million of the money he’s made in commercial real estate), he’s also such a strict utilitarian that he says he’d sacrifice his one remaining kidney if it were needed by someone who could do more good than he. (He’s already donated the other one to a stranger, angering his mother and provoking two friends to abandon him.) “No one should have two kidneys,” he explains, “until everyone has one.” His wife has threatened divorce, concerned that he’ll deprive their four children by adhering to his principles–but he insists he cannot value the lives of his own kids more than any other human life.

People With Issues

According to an August Wall Street Journal report, the $10,000 foot surgery a 31-year-old Philadelphia woman recently underwent–she had one toe shortened and another straightened–is merely a radical manifestation of a widespread obsession with fashionable but ever-pointier pumps. Over-the-counter products like gel cushions and “toe hose” have proliferated to help women endure these excruciating shoes, and podiatrists are offering nail-narrowing surgeries and collagen injections to pad the soles of the feet. (A podiatrist in Moline, Illinois, on the other hand, has her own reply for patients who say they need toe surgery: “No, you need different shoes.”)


In May in Whittier, California, Michael Grumbine buzzed La Serna High School in an ultralight aircraft to drop pro-life leaflets (informing students that they were trapped “in the Matrix,” where “abortion is good”), but in midflight, as he reached forward to fetch a leaflet stuck in the netting that protected him from the propeller, he severed two fingers in the blades and promptly crashed his plane.

Thinking Outside the Box

In June in Pittsburgh, officials at a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant attempted to draw a crowd to a tour of their facilities–a huge sprawl of tanks, “scrubbers,” and ponds filled with raw human waste–by offering a picnic of free hamburgers and hot dogs. (About 300 people showed up.)

In March, the double life of Tampa road-construction magnate Douglas “Diesel” Cone, 74, came to light when, two weeks after the death of his wife of 52 years, Jean Ann (with whom he had three kids), he married his paramour, Hillary Carlson (with whom he already had two other children). For decades he’d been living roughly half of each week as “Donald Carlson” in Hillary’s mansion 20 miles away; she explained to friends and family that her “husband” had a sensitive government job that required a lot of travel, which was why he never seemed to appear with her in public. Cone’s money, donated under both his names, helped build the exclusive prep school that all five children attended (and at which both women served as trustees). The consensus among the relatives seems to be that Hillary knew; Jean Ann may never have learned; and most of Cone’s friends and associates had no idea.

Least Competent Criminals

In August in Saint Charles County, Missouri, a prisoner tried to escape from the parking garage of the county jail by dashing through a fire exit door, unaware that there was a concrete retaining wall three feet beyond it; he was hospitalized with head injuries. Also in August in Tampa, Florida, one man was arrested (and several others are still being sought) for burglarizing a Sports Authority store through a 40-foot tunnel; police estimate that the thieves spent at least a week digging the tunnel and reinforcing it with wooden pallets, but once they broke through the store’s floor, they only managed to make off with about $3,500 in athletic shoes and Tampa Bay Buccaneers jerseys before an early cleaning crew spotted them.

Our Civilization in Decline

In July the federal government reached a settlement with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the University of Chicago Hospitals (and filed a claim against University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago) on charges that doctors in each institution’s liver-transplant program had deliberately exaggerated the direness of their patients’ conditions to secure them new organs before they were eligible. (The larger number of transplants in turn enabled the hospitals to qualify for federal reimbursements.) One official allegedly told the whistle-blowing doctor that this was “the Chicago way.”

In the Last Month

In North Platte, Nebraska, a judge accepted the defense offered by a 45-year-old inmate who’d returned from a work-release program with alcohol on his breath: the man said he’d eaten four homemade burritos containing meat marinated in tequila and beer. In Essex, England, Jeremy Bamber, jailed in 1986 for killing five members of his family, filed a lawsuit against four surviving relatives, claiming they’d unduly influenced his adoptive grandmother to deprive him of his share of the family estate (he maintains he was wrongfully convicted). And the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board turned down a petition for asylum by a Venezuelan woman who explained that she would be “persecuted” in her home country for being too fat.

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