Wednesday, May 26, 2010

News of the Weird

Google+ Pinterest Print

Game, Set, Match

Briton Robert Dee, feeling humiliated at being called the "world's worst tennis pro" by London's Daily Telegraph (and other news organizations), sued the newspaper for libel last year. After taking testimony in February 2010, the judge tossed out the lawsuit in April, persuaded by Dee’s having lost 54 consecutive international tour matches (all in straight sets). Fearful of an opposite result, 30 other news organizations had already apologized to Dee for disparaging him, and some even paid him money in repentance, but the Telegraph had stood its ground (and was, of course, humble in victory, titling its story on the outcome, “‘World's Worst’ Tennis Player Loses Again”).


The Continuing Crisis

  • An April ABC News TV report featured a Westford, Mass., couple as the face of the "radical unschooling" philosophy, which challenges both the formal classroom system and home schooling. Typically, home-schooling parents believe they can organize their kids' educations better than schools can, but "unschoolers" simply put kids on their own, free to decide by themselves what, or whether, to learn any of the traditional school subjects. There is no punishment, no judgment, no discipline. The key, said parent Christine Yablonski, "is that you've got to trust your kids." For example, "If they (decide that they) need formal algebra understanding ... they'll find that information."
  • Bolinas, Calif., north of San Francisco, is famously reclusive, even to the point of residents' removing state highway signs pointing to the town, hoping that outsiders will get lost enroute and give up the quest. It limits its population to about 1,500 by officially fixing the number of municipal water hookups at 580, but in April, one of the meters became available when the city purchased a residential lot to convert to a park. The meter was to be sold at a May auction, with a minimum bid of $300,000.

Uh-Oh!

A recent French documentary in the form of a TV show called "Game of Death" mimics the notorious 1950s human-torture experiments of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, who would coax test subjects to administer increasingly painful jolts of electricity to strangers to assess their obedience to an "authority figure," even if contrary to their own moral codes. As in Milgram's experiments, the Game of Death "victims" were actors, unharmed but paid to scream louder with each successive "shock." According to a BBC News report, 81% of the game's players were willing torturers, a higher percentage than Milgram found, but the TV show's subjects had greater encouragement, cheered on by a raucous studio audience and a glamorous hostess.

Oops!

Spectacular Errors: (1) Milton High School beat Westlake, 56-46, for the Georgia 5A boys' basketball championship in March. Westlake's chances evaporated during the pre-game warm-ups, when their Georgia-player-of-the-year candidate Marcus Thornton was forced to sit out after twisting his ankle leaping to ceremonially hip-bump a teammate. (2) Two North Carolina surgeons were issued official "letters of concern" in January for a 2008 incident in which they performed a C-section on a woman who was not pregnant. (They relied on a resident’s incorrect diagnosis and followed an ultrasound with no heartbeat and several obviously failed attempts to induce labor.)

Bright Ideas

Frustrated customers frequently challenge bills, and occasionally, "rescission" of the original deal is a suitable remedy. However, it's not suitable for some services. Deborah Dillow was late with the $150 she allegedly owed to The Bomb Squad dog waste pick-up service in Bend, Ore., in April, and appeared to be avoiding calls at her home. The Bomb Squad owner, frustrated by the delays, simply returned all the work done to that point on Dillow's property in one big pile, in her front yard.

Least Competent Criminals

Overconfident "Artists": (1) Clair Arthur Smith, 42, of Cape Coral, Fla., was charged with forgery in May after he allegedly tried to doctor the amount of a check he had received from Florida Gulf Bank. Converting the "$10.00" check to $100, or even $100,000, would seem plausible, but Smith tried to deposit the check into his account after he had marked it up to "$269,951.00." (2) A 17-year-old was arrested in College Station, Texas, in January for allegedly trying to pass a homemade $5 bill at a restaurant. Police said the bill's front and back had been computer-scanned and then pasted together but that the front of the bill was longer than the back.

2010 Chuck Shepherd