Pushing the Personhood Envelope
California activist Jonathan Frieman finally got his day in court in January, but a Marin County judge quickly rejected his argument that he is entitled to use the state's carpool lanes accompanied only by a sheath of corporate papers in the passenger seat. (During the 2012 Republican primaries, Mitt Romney famously asserted a corporation's general right under the law to be treated as a "person.") The judge decided that the state legislature's carpool law was intended only to reduce traffic clutter and that driving with no passenger except corporate papers was unrelated to that goal. Frieman told reporters that he had been carrying the papers around for years, hoping to be challenged.
-- The U.S. Congress may suffer dismal popularity ratings (less savory than head lice, according to one survey), but it is saintly compared to India's legislatures, which contain six accused rapists at the state level and two in the national parliament. Thirty-six local officials, as well, have been charged with sexual assault (according to India's Association for Democratic Reforms). In fact, the association reported in December that 162 of the lower house of Parliament's 552 members currently face criminal charges. The problem is compounded by India's notoriously paralyzed justice system, which practically ensures that the charges will be unresolved for years, if not decades.
-- Many Japanese men seem to reject smartphones in favor of a low-tech 2002 Fujitsu cellphone, according to a January Wall Street Journal dispatch -- because it can help philanderers keep their affairs from lovers' prying eyes. The phones lack sophisticated tracking features -- plus, a buried "privacy" mode gives off only stealth signals when lovers call and leaves no trace of calls, texts or e-mails. A senior executive for Fujitsu said, "If Tiger Woods had (this phone), he wouldn't have gotten in trouble."
-- China's national legislature passed a law in December to establish that people have a duty to visit their aged parents periodically. China's rapid urbanization has not developed nursing homes and similar facilities to keep pace with the population, and sponsors of the law said it would give the parents a legal right to sue their children for ignoring them.
Latest Religious Messages
-- Redemption! Senior pastor Claude Gilliland III was forced to admit to his flock at the New Heart church in Cleburne, Texas, in January that he is a convicted sex offender and that he and his ex-wife had worked in the pornography industry. Gilliland, 54, served four years in prison in the 1990s for sexually assaulting his ex-wife, but in January was nonetheless defended by his congregation. "If we believe in the redemptive work of Christ," said one parishioner, "then this man is a miracle." (Gilliland believes he needs no redemption for the assault, for he was innocent of that -- but that he had done other bad things during that time that did require redemption.)
-- God and Shoes: (1) "Prophet" Cindy Jacobs said in a January Internet broadcast that God has revealed Himself to her by mysteriously removing critical shortages in her life, such as her car's well-worn tires that just kept rolling. "I remember one time that I had a pair of shoes that I wore and wore and wore and wore and wore and it just -- for years, these shoes did not wear out." (2) Dublin, Ireland, inventor David Bonney recently decided to change the marketing of his new shoes to "Atheist Shoes." Two years earlier, he had started the business with the idea of selling "Christian" shoes that contained water in the soles so that wearers could walk on water.
-- Four days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., officials at Public School 79 in New York City decided it would be a good time for a full-blown lockdown drill -- with no advance warning. Though P.S. 79 is a high school and not an elementary school, it is composed of about 300 students with special needs (autism, cerebral palsy, severe emotional disorders) who, with their teachers, were startled to hear the early-morning loudspeaker blaring, "Shooter (or, possibly, "intruder"), get out, get out, lockdown." One adult said it took her about five minutes to realize that it was only a drill. Still, said another, "It was probably the worst feeling I ever had in my life."
-- Neighborhood observers reported in December that the asbestos-removal "crew" working at the former YWCA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, consisted merely of volunteer teenagers who are students at the local religious Buckeye Education School. State regulations require that asbestos (known to cause deadly respiratory illnesses) be handled only by certified contractors using hazardous-materials gear. Buckeye and other officials, while emphasizing that the students were volunteers, declined to say who authorized them to work.
-- In November, Tokyo's Kenichi Ito, 29, bested his own Guinness World Record by a full second (down to 17.47 seconds) in the 100-meter dash -- on all fours. Ito runs like a Patas monkey, which he has long admired, and which (along with his self-described monkey-like face) inspired him nine years ago to take up "four-legged" running. He reported trouble only once, when he went to the mountains to train and was shot at by a hunter who mistook him for a wild boar.
Generally, clients are held to account for their lawyers' errors because the lawyers are their "agents," but death row inmates might be treated differently, for they usually do not select or pay for their lawyers -- and because the stakes are so high. Alabama, though, looks at the problem unsympathetically, according to a January New York Times report. When an Alabama death row inmate misses an appeals-filing deadline only because of his lawyer's error (in murder client Ronald Smith's case, only because lawyer C. Wade Johnson was an often-incapacitated methamphetamine addict), the client forgoes the appeal. The Smith case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. (Alabama also remains the only state in which judges overrule juries and impose the death penalty instead of life in prison.)
Fetishists on Parade
William Michael Martin, 45, was charged in January with burglary of the East Texas Medical Center in Lufkin, Texas, where he went apparently in search of women's underwear and employees' personal photos, which police said he used as masturbation aids. At his home, police discovered a cache of women's underwear and several beach balls, which officers learned from photos were so that Martin could put them under his clothing and pose as pregnant.
Least Competent Criminals
Benjamin Greene, 22, was charged in December with shoplifting a nude blow-up doll from a Spencer's Gifts store in Spartanburg, but on closer inspection, the doll was less than met the eye. It was one of the manufacturer's "Super Star Series" of dolls, suggesting resemblances to celebrities such as Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan, but which are apparently all the same generic plastic doll resembling no specific human. The packaging on Greene's $19.99 "Finally Mylie! Love Doll" suggests singer Miley Cyrus ("finally" presumably to honor Cyrus' having recently turned 18 and "legal"), but it, too, was the generic plastic doll.
(1) In December, the Illinois Times reported that emergency workers were called to a Springfield, Ill., church to rescue Father Tom Donovan, who said that he had been playing with a pair of handcuffs in the rectory and accidentally got stuck. He was also wearing "some sort of gag," according to the police report. The church told reporters that Father Donovan immediately went on administrative leave and was unable to answer questions. (2) Donald Blood III, 55, was charged with DUI in December in Dorset, Vt., after driving into a yard, thinking it was a parking lot. It was actually historic property: the 1852 home in which Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was born and which is "a place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives."
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