Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008

Voting Mayhem, Again

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The two states whose disputed electoral votes called into question the results of the presidential races in 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio) are provoking anxiety in 2008 as well. In Palm Beach County, Fla. (home of the “butterfly ballot” in 2000), 3,478 optical-scan votes disappeared between the election-night counting on Aug. 26 and the official recount a few days later (flipping the outcome of at least one race). Also in August, Ohio officials claimed that they had fixed a software error in Premier Election Solutions machines used in some counties. According to a spokesman for Premier, the company formerly known as Diebold, that error had been present for the last 10 years. Also in August, Ohio’s secretary of state ordered election officials to stop taking voting machines home at night during election season for “safekeeping.”

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

This summer, the New York Post reported on several Manhattan businesses that tried to cater to nudists with special events. Among the events were John Ordover’s monthly dinners at selected restaurants such as the Mercantile Grill, where about 50 diners eat and drink naked (though they were served by the restaurant’s regular, clothed staff), and the Naked Comedy Showcase at People’s Improv Theater in the Chelsea district, where naked comedians perform once a month (and a section in the audience is reserved for naked patrons).

Weird Science

Kay Underwood, 20, of Leicestershire, England, risks momentarily collapsing every time she laughs, according to an August report in London’s Daily Telegraph. Her cataplexy causes a sudden, dramatic weakening of muscles when she experiences strong emotions, including joy, excitement and anger. She said she has collapsed as many as 40 times in a day. Sometimes her friends will goodnaturedly try to make her giggle, but she said she has learned tricks to protect herself, “like locking my knees together or grabbing onto something.”

Recent Alarming Headlines

(1)“Elephant beats heroin habit with detox,” from Reuters, Sept. 4, regarding Chinese poachers who had spiked a male elephant’s bananas with heroin in order to control him.

(2) “Court grants injunction to stop woman cutting off man’s penis,” in the Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Aug. 15. A man told a judge in Darwin, Australia, that he had to hide in some tall grass to escape a former girlfriend’s recent pursuit.

(3) “Police: Chihuahuas provoke baton attack on nude beach,” from the KGW- TV Web site, July 28. A naked sunbather, 74, near Portland, Ore., attacked two Chihuahuas and their owner after the dogs ran up to him on a nude beach.

The Weirdo-American Community

Despite a recent arrest, police said that there continues to be a wave of motorists fondling themselves in the drive-thru lanes of Seattle-area espresso stands. In August, an employee of Java Girls in Parkland, Wash., tossed boiling water onto the face of a man accused of exposing himself for the third time in the same day, to which the man reportedly responded, “Oh, yeah,” and drove off. In September, a 20-year-old driver admitted to several fondling incidents from February to May in Monroe, Wash., but expressed relief that police caught him. “I need to stop,” he said, “and I can’t do it alone. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.”

Least Competent Criminals

In August, an unidentified man smashed a 6-foot hole in the wall of Name Brand Clothing in Tulsa, Okla., and labored through the night to break into the safe. According to the surveillance video, he finally gave up six hours later after making only a small hole in the safe. When the store manager arrived later that morning, he found the safe unlocked, probably the result of his forgetfulness the night before. No contents were missing.

Recurring Themes

Drivers recently hit by their own cars:

(1) A woman parking her car in Athens, Ga., in July, opened the door to tell another driver that she was not leaving her parking space when she fell out and was run over.

(2) A man in his 60s was pushing his car out of a ditch in July in Montreal, Quebec, when it started to roll. When he jumped in to hit the brakes, the car jerked, ejected him and ran him over.

(3) In April, a 24-year-old man attempted to leap from a stolen U-Haul truck while fleeing police in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. But the man failed to clear the door, and he was ultimately crushed to death.

Readers’ Choice

(1) In August, Mr. Angel Medina, 24, was found dead underneath a bridge in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In accordance with his wishes, according to his brother, Medina was embalmed in a standing position in a corner of his mother’s living room for a three-day wake (wearing his Yankees cap and sunglasses).

(2) As police cars in Minnetonka, Minn., chased suspected burglar Grayson Clevenger, 27, an officer who knew Clevenger’s cell-phone number called to try to persuade him to give up. Clevenger picked up the phone and, according to officers, yelled, “Dude, I can’t talk! I’m being chased by the police!” He was captured a short time later.

2008 Chuck Shepherd