Lead Story

At an Atlanta conference in May, researchers from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University reported on a procedure with potentially major implications for human patients: the team removed the penises from rabbits and replaced them with new, fully functioning penises grown from each rabbit’s own cells using a “penis-shaped matrix.”

Courtroom Follies

In May a federal appeals panel ruled that Scott Panetti, who has been institutionalized 14 times and is acknowledged by judges and prosecutors to suffer from serious mental illness, is nonetheless eligible to be executed in Texas. Panetti, now 48, was allowed to represent himself at his 1995 murder trial, where he unsuccessfully argued that when he shot his in-laws in front of his wife and daughter he’d been controlled by an alter ego named Sarge Ironhorse. (“Sarge boom boom,” he told the jury.) The law requires that a condemned prisoner understand why he’s being put to death; though doctors have testified that Panetti believes Satan and Texas are conspiring to kill him to prevent him from preaching, the appeals panel essentially said that was close enough.

In June Mark Schneider, a prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, asked Judge Eileen Gallagher to recuse herself from the rape trial of 22-year-old Norman Craig on the basis of her earlier comments suggesting that the alleged victim, a 16-year-old girl who was 10 at the time of the alleged attack, lacked credibility. When Schneider was 45 minutes late to court that afternoon, Gallagher abruptly dismissed all charges against Craig, telling Schneider, “Don’t treat me like a punk.”

After examining 28 instances in which pro athletes were ordered by a court to perform community service, USA Today reported in May that in 24 of them the athletes weren’t assigned to the typically menial tasks (e.g. picking up trash) given to noncelebrities but instead fulfilled their sentences by making public appearances or signing autographs. After NBA player DeShawn Stevenson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor statutory rape in 2001 (he was 19, the girl was 14), his 100 hours of community service included not just motivational speeches at basketball camps but 27 hours’ travel time to and from the camps. NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, who pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors after becoming belligerent during a 2005 traffic stop and refusing to take what he called a “gay-ass” sobriety test, did part of his community service by throwing out the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

Cultural Diversity

In May ESPN: The Magazine reported on the bloody, unrefereed polo tournament held annually at an altitude of 12,500 feet in the Shandur Pass in northwestern Pakistan. Matches feature teams from the neighboring regions of Gilgit and Chitral, longtime bitter enemies, and local leaders credit the three-day event with minimizing actual warfare between the two peoples. Despite a recently adopted rule against intentionally swinging one’s mallet at an opponent (agreed upon following a fatal blow several years ago), serious injuries remain common; in last year’s final match, after Chitral’s star player was flung 15 feet in the air by his horse, landed on his bare head, and came to rest on the turf motionless and perhaps dead (it turned out he’d merely broken his neck), fans quickly began yelling to have him removed from the field so play could resume.

Ice Cream, Balloons, and Kwame Holman

According to a Washington Post column in June, Troy and Jennifer Schally of Saint Paul, Minnesota, contacted the PBS studios in Arlington, Virginia, this spring with a request: their son Henry, who was turning three in May, had decided that he wanted the theme of his birthday party to be The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, and could the show’s staff help them make it happen? (Henry “adores” the show, his parents told the Post–he watches every night, listens to the podcast the following morning, and talks to them “about every reporter who comes on.”) Staffers sent the Schallys photos of the cast and images of the show’s logo (for decorating the cake and hats) plus a picture of Lehrer that the anchor autographed using Henry’s name for him: “Jimmy Jimmy BoBo.”

Least Competent Criminals

Richard Costello, 29, was arrested in Clearwater, Florida, in May and charged with dealing in stolen goods and running a chop shop. When parts from a motorcycle that had been reported stolen started turning up on eBay, police noticed that many of the auction photos showed not only the parts–shot from above, lying on a linoleum floor–but also a set of bare toes, presumably the photographer’s, tattooed with letters spelling out “white” and “trash.” A search of jail records for such a tattoo turned up Costello’s name.

Least Competent People

In Baldwin Place, New York, in June 37-year-old William Collins was arrested for drunk driving without ever making it out of his parking space. Police said they found Collins passed out in the driver’s seat of his locked van with the transmission in park, his foot on the gas, and smoke pouring from the racing engine; he didn’t wake up until officers finally smashed one of the windows.

Religion in Crisis

According to an April article in the Guardian, British churches, faced with an aging population of organists and a shortage of younger players to take their place, are increasingly turning to the Hymnal Plus, a karaoke-style machine that can accompany congregations in nearly 3,000 hymns and psalms. And at a June meeting of the city council of Ontario, California, Pastor John Sabbath of the Liv in Christ Christian Center (apparently upset about having been denied public funding) announced that he was placing a curse on city manager Greg Devereaux and his family.

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