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NEWS OF THE WEIRD

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Chuck Shepherd’s news of the odd and strange.

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Doing Time Right

In October, a Harvard University debate team (three-time recent champions of the American Parliamentary Debate Association) lost a match to a team of prisoners from the maximum-security Eastern New York Correctional Facility. Prison debaters “are held to the exact same standards” as college debate teams, according to the director of Bard College’s Prison Initiative, which coaches the inmates. Prisoners took the “pro” side of public schools having the right to turn away students whose parents had entered the U.S. illegally (though team members personally disagreed). The Bard trainers pointed out that the inmates perfected their presentation despite (or perhaps because of) the prison prohibition on Internet access.

Compelling Explanations

A black alleged gang member, Taurus Brown, 19, under arrest in Clearwater, Florida, in September for having a marijuana cigarette casually tucked behind his ear as he talked politely to a white police officer, tried to flee on foot but was quickly taken down. Asked why he ran, Brown replied (according to the police report): “I don’t like white people touching me. White people do weird stuff.”

Unclear on the Concept

— The Merit Systems Protection Board is (wrote The Washington Post) “a personnel court of last resort” for federal employees unfairly punished by demotion or firing — which is just what employee Timothy Korb needed when his federal agency suspended him in 2013, allegedly for revealing at a staff meeting that the agency’s actual case backlog was much worse than it was letting on. Korb’s employer, ironically, is the Merit Systems Protection Board, and in September 2015, an administrative law judge upheld his claim of unfairness.

— Philosophy professor Anna Stubblefield (Rutgers-Newark University) was convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a severely disabled man she was discovered having sex with on the floor in a locked office, but at trial in September, she testified that the man had “consent(ed)” and that the two were “in love.” The victim, 34, has cerebral palsy and other ailments, wears diapers, requires assistance for nearly all activities, is intellectually disabled, and does not speak, “except for making noises,” according to a brother. Stubblefield had been working with him on the controversial practice of “facilitated communication,” in which a facilitator reads a patient’s mind via subtleties such as eye movement and articulates the words for him. However, a jury failed to appreciate that facilitated “consent” and quickly convicted her.

Shameless

In rare bipartisan action, the U.S. Senate is preparing a bill to ban taxpayer funds for those military salutes at sporting events. Teams (the legislators believe) already benefit from the fan-friendly staging of heartwarming patriotic displays. (The Pentagon had paid $5.4 million just to the National Football League over the last four years.) An NFL spokesman, finally playing catch-up, said in September, “(N)o one should be paid to honor our troops.”

The Weirdo-American Community

“Officially” declaring oneself not subject to the laws of any jurisdiction (i.e., a “sovereign”) opens a wide range of career choices. The FBI and Las Vegas police say that in Rick Van Thiel’s case, once his porn industry career ended (because someone stole his video equipment), he “decided to go into the medical field,” becoming “Dr. Rick” with expertise performing dozens of abortions, circumcisions and castrations (plus cancer treatments and root canals). Proudly avoiding actual licensing, Van Thiel promoted “alternative” remedies, with an office in a Nevada compound of trailers that one hesitant “patient” described as something out of a horror movie. Van Thiel, arrested in October, nonetheless staunchly defended his ability (acquired, he said, by watching YouTube medical videos). (Bonus entertainment: In court, he will be acting as his own lawyer.)

Perspective

In June, Tennessee’s much-publicized program to kick drug users off of welfare rolls (and only from welfare rolls, among all people receiving any type of state subsidy) wound up its first year cutting off fewer than 40 people out of 28,559 people on public assistance (“temporary assistance to needy families”). Nonetheless, the sponsoring legislators said they were pleased with the program and planned no changes. The state paid a contractor $11,000 to conduct 468 drug tests, but did not disclose staff costs of processing applications, deciding who to test and managing cases.

Least Competent Criminals

— Not Ready for Prime Time: It was at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 8 that, according to Dallas police, Kristopher Jones, 18, and a buddy decided it would be Joy’s Donut shop they should rob. As they exited the store (one carrying the shop’s cash register), a uniformed, off-duty officer (who apparently had pulled up to the store — for doughnuts) saw the whole thing and arrested Jones (though his partner was able to flee).

— I’m Da Man! John Morgan, 28, and Ashley Duboe, 24, were charged in September with robbing the Savings Bank in Ashville, Ohio — with their apprehension made easier by Morgan’s Facebook photos of himself riffling through (and with a mouthful of) his newly acquired stack of bills (a “McStack,” he wrote) and describing his current elation: “I got six bands bra … I’m doing rrree=aaaalll good.” (Police were quick to find the Facebook page because Morgan was already on parole from a 2010 bank robbery.)

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