Lead Story

One day in November onlookers watching the progress of a window washer in downtown Nashville noticed that he’d stopped moving. According to a witness interviewed by the Tennessean, the man hung motionless 20 stories above the street for at least half an hour; after firefighters arrived and tugged on his ropes, he regained consciousness (having apparently just dozed off) and lowered himself to the ground for an exam by an ambulance crew.

Unclear on the Concept

In an October segment on cell phone use by prison inmates–which is rampant despite being prohibited–NPR’s All Things Considered reported that an inmate in Maryland had recently placed a call to the desk of state senator Ed DeGrange; he had a list of grievances he wanted addressed and left his number so DeGrange could get back to him. A warden in Texas, meanwhile, had received a call from the mother of an inmate complaining about the bad reception her son’s phone was getting.

Questionable Judgments

In October a judge in Greenock, Scotland, found 23-year-old Hui Yu, a student from Beijing, not guilty of a traffic violation. Two police officers had identified Hui as the perpetrator, but the judge accepted the defendant’s claim that he’d been elsewhere at the time of the alleged offense, ruling that “all Chinese people can look the same to a native Scot. It’s only when you have time to look that you begin to see the differences.” (Interviewed later by BBC News, an ethnically Chinese

man living in Glasgow said he didn’t find the judge’s remarks offensive, adding that he has trouble telling indigenous Scots apart.)

Steppin’ Down

The chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Guy Fournier, resigned in September after he asserted in a magazine column that bestiality was legal in Lebanon as long as it was heterosexual, then in a radio interview expounded at length on the pleasures of defecation, which he compared favorably to those of sex.

In December 57-year-old Bonilyn Wilbanks-Free (who is white) resigned as town manager of Golden Beach, Florida, following an incident in which she addressed 55-year-old assistant town manager Barbara Tarasenko (who is black) as “mammy” in front of two other officials. According to a complaint by Tarasenko, Wilbanks-Free then tried to apologize by explaining how much she “loved Aunt Jemima.” (Wilbanks-Free maintained to an investigator that her use of the term had been a slip of the tongue–an accidental combination of “missy” and “ma’am,” two words she said she often uses playfully.)

People Different From Us

Following an October conviction on multiple charges including murder and conspiracy, 35-year-old Irenia “Lamb” Cotner of rural Claremont, Illinois, was sentenced in December to 57 years in prison. According to prosecutors, Cotner enlisted four other adults to help her murder a pregnant 16-year-old girl–the girlfriend of Cotner’s ex-boyfriend–by convincing them they all had hexes on them that could be broken only by killing the girl and her fetus. (The intended victim survived the ensuing attack, but a man at the scene didn’t.) At trial one witness who earlier pleaded guilty for her role said she’d believed in the hex because of migraines she suffered. Another alleged conspirator (whose own trial starts in March) said he’d studied witchcraft so he could make people like him and testified that Cotner told them they’d have to bring the body afterward to a remote location and there open a gate to hell for the souls of the girl and her unborn child.

The New York Times reported in October on the UK documentary Crossing the Line, in which former American soldier James Dresnok discusses his defection to North Korea in 1962 and his life since then as a propaganda hero in Pyongyang. In the film Dresnok, now 64, cries when speaking of the kindness shown him by the late Kim Il Sung (whom he refers to using the standard epithet “the Great Leader”), expresses pride in the education his Korean-born children have received, and says of the North Korean system in general, “I wouldn’t trade it for nuthin’.”

Least Competent Criminals

An unidentified man fled after failing to hold up a Git ‘n’ Go convenience store in Des Moines in December; the attempt stalled when clerk Terry Cook refused to turn over any money, having noticed the robber’s extended thumb sticking out of the coat pocket where he was ostensibly holding a gun and concluded it was just his hand. Cook said that the robber briefly tried to insist he did so have a gun but soon gave up.

Christmas Roundup

Reuters reported in December on Christmas meals in Asian countries: Christians on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi often have paniki, or bats cooked in coconut milk

(“If you cut the arm pit in a wrong way, it will be very stinky,” one resident warned), while in Japan, where Christmas is generally observed as a secular event, Kentucky Fried Chicken is such a popular holiday meal that some patrons reserve theirs in advance. Meanwhile, the week before Christmas in National Mine, Michigan, Steven Rautio allegedly took a dispute with his girlfriend to the next level by cutting up their Christmas tree and other decorations with a chain saw and stuffing the debris in a wood-burning stove; the resulting fire destroyed their house. And according to a December article in the Observer, a British labor union proposed taking legal action on behalf of store clerks who must listen to endless loops of Christmas music in the workplace; a spokesperson for the UK Noise Association likened the protracted exposure to torture.

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