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WEEK OF AUGUST 3, 2008

LEAD STORY

Among President Sarkozy's recent moves to trim the size of the French government was the layoff of half of the 165 physiotherapists at the taxpayer-funded National Baths of Aix-les-Bains. The pink-slipped masseurs warn that the country's health will be at risk if people are unable to get the mud wraps, thermal baths and deep-tissue massages covered by national health insurance (along with subsidized transportation and lodging for the visits). In fact, 27 of the physiotherapists immediately went on sick leave for depression. Among Sarkozy's other targets of government bloat, according to a July Wall Street Journal dispatch: figuring out why France employs 271 diplomats in India but more than 700 in Senegal. [Wall Street Journal, 7-8-08]


Compelling Explanations

Edward Defreitas, 36, was arrested in Toms River, N.J., in June and accused of causing a three-vehicle collision that injured two men in a car and sent two others (paramedics riding in an ambulance) to the hospital. Defreitas told police that he had been drinking and had decided to drive around until he sobered up: "He (said he) was afraid to go home and his mother finding alcohol on his breath." [Asbury Park Press, 6-11-08]


The Litigious Society

School custodian Anthony Gower-Smith, 73, was awarded the equivalent of about $75,000 in June in London's High Court after suing Britain's Hampshire County government when he hurt himself falling off a 6-foot stepladder. Gower-Smith claimed that he had not been properly "trained" on how to use it, despite his long-time experience with such ladders, and despite his signed acknowledgment that he had indeed received training, and despite his having blamed himself just after he fell. (He disavowed the self-blame by saying that, at the time, he was woozy and didn't remember what he said.) [Daily Telegraph, 6-16-08; BBC News, 6-27-08]

Shannon Hyman, now 24, filed a lawsuit in July against the Green Iguana Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., for medical bills and lost wages when she was badly burned four years ago drinking a "flaming shot" of Bacardi 151-proof rum (which normally is consumed without incident, but Hyman had spit out the drink, spreading flames to her head and upper torso). Hyman told the Tampa Tribune: "I'm suing because I should not have been let in (because she was under 21 at the time). If I weren't let in, none of the events would have happened." [Tampa Tribune, 7-16-08]


Ironies

In July, the new smoking ban for bars and restaurants in the Netherlands took effect, but it won't curtail patrons' right to smoke marijuana in Amsterdam's coffee shops (where they can buy up to 5 grams a day to smoke on the premises). And, just as the ban became law, the Dutch special-effects company Rain Showtechniek began selling bars a machine (for the equivalent of about $900) that, for nostalgia, replicates the scent of traditional, cigarette-smoked air (but which does not damage health or linger in clothing or hair.) [USA Today, 6-27-08] [Daily Telegraph (London), 7-14-08]

Not Quite Rehabilitated: A prominent anti-drug motivational speaker, who uses his own sordid life story to inspire troubled kids to turn their lives around, was arrested in May and charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting at his girlfriend and an old buddy from prison following a long evening of alcohol and methamphetamines. Said the prosecutor in Isanti County, Minn., of the rampage by Russell Simon Jr., 45, "We're lucky we don't have a multiple homicide on our hands." [Star-Tribune-AP, 5-23-08]


I Demand My Rights!

Murder suspect Broderick Laswell, 19, filed a lawsuit in federal court in April against the Benton County (Ark.) Jail, alleging that he was being "literally" "starved to death" while awaiting trial, and complaining of "blurry" vision and of almost passing out. As evidence of his plight, Laswell pointed out that, in eight months behind bars, his weight had dropped from 413 pounds to 308. [Morning News (Fayetteville), 4-25-08]

It's Good to Be a British Prisoner (continued): In June, Abu Qatada, a cleric described as one of Europe's most dangerous terror proselytizers, was released from jail, where he has been awaiting deportation (for three years) to Jordan and confined to his home in London. British courts refuse to deport him because, when Jordan tries him on serious terrorism charges, it might possibly use evidence obtained by torture of Abu Qatada's colleagues. Thus, he will remain in Britain, under heavy guard (estimated to cost the equivalent of $1 million a year), in his tax-abated home with his wife and five children, who receive the equivalent of about $90,000 a year in welfare benefits. (Abu Qatada himself receives the equivalent of $16,000 a year from the government, for a previous back injury.) [Daily Mail (London), 7-10-08]

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in July that officials at a junior high school in Safford, Ariz., should not have strip-searched a 13-year-old girl when all they wanted was to see if she was carrying ibuprofen. However, her "right" to privacy carried the day among the judges by only 6-5, as the dissenters pointed out that it was, after all, prescription-strength ibuprofen they were after and that officials proceeded based on information from an "informant." (The majority apparently holds junior-high-age "informants" in lower regard.) [Arizona Daily Star, 7-12-08]


People With Issues

At the time that Alan Patton, 56, of Columbus, Ohio, made News of the Weird in 2006, he had already been consuming boys' urine for 40 years, he said, and a 2007 jail sentence has had no apparent deterrent effect. He was arrested in June 2008 (and twice since then), accused of turning off the water in a recreation center restroom and placing plastic wrap inside the bowl to catch the nectar that, he says, enables him to "become part of their youth." While no Ohio law prohibits collecting or drinking others' urine, Patton violates his almost-perpetual probation by visiting any public restroom. [Columbus Dispatch, 7-19-08]


Least Competent Criminals

In the course of burglarizing Yaakov Kanelsky's apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., in July, Victor Marin, 20, accidentally left his wallet (containing ID, credit cards and photos) on the bed. After Kanelsky arrived home and called 911, Marin returned and knocked on the front door. From the hallway, he begged for his billfold back and began shoving Kanelsky's money under the door, hoping to persuade him to trade. Unfortunately for Marin, $92 of his $217 cash haul was in $1 bills, and the crack under the door was tiny. Marin was still busy stuffing money in by the time police arrived. [New York Post, 7-14-08]


Update

In July in Brisbane, the Indian-born surgeon known in Australia as "Dr. Death," Jayant Patel, was freed on bail on manslaughter charges, which seems inexplicable since he had fled to the U.S. in 2005 to avoid the charges and only recently had been extradited. Patel's medical license had been revoked in New York and Oregon before he became head of surgery in a short-staffed Australian hospital in 2003 (a job for which a background check was not performed). While Patel was there, at least 17 of his patients died under preventable circumstances, and some nurses said they took to hiding their patients from Patel, who was quoted by one nurse as saying, "Doctors don't get germs." He was also charged with falsifying patient records. [Agence France-Presse, 7-20-08; New York Times, 11-22-06]


Things You Thought Didn't Happen

People would hardly expect a brawl at the Guilford (Maine) Historical Society, but in May, member Al Hunt, who was irate that rare photographs of the town had been loaned to a local restaurant, might have bumped against the society's secretary, Zarvin Shaffer. According to witnesses, Shaffer then punched Hunt in the face, Hunt's wife grabbed a chair, and Shaffer's son yanked Mrs. Hunt away by her hair. [Bangor Daily News, 5-29-08]

In April, the Sycamore (Ill.) City Council voted to quadruple the fine for overstaying a parking meter (from 25 cents to $1). The city's 360 meters themselves will remain at a penny for 12 minutes, a nickel for an hour and a dime for two hours. [Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, Ill.), 5-22-08]

Thanks This Week to Vikki Williams, Tom Barker, Joe Weckbacher, and Gerald Sacks, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

(And for the accomplished and joyous cynic, try News of the Weird Daily/Pro Edition, at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2008 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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