The honor system
A February report on mine safety regulation by USA Today found that complicated federal statutes and unvigorous Mine Safety and Health Administration enforcement have resulted in a structure of civil fines almost guaranteed not to deter dangerous conditions. The largest-ever MSHA fine (for a 2001 incident with 13 deaths) was $605,400 (as compared to, for example, the FCC's 2004 fine of CBS for the brief image of Janet Jackson's breast at the Super Bowl, which was $3.5 million). One attorney who represents coal companies claimed that fines are largely irrelevant to safety: "I really don't think any responsible mine operator makes any decision about safety based on civil penalties."
Tropic of Kiddies
Massachusetts inmate Joseph Schmitt, 41, filed a lawsuit for $70,000 against the Department of Corrections in December for restricting his ability to continue his writing career from lockup. Schmitt, now in civil detainment following completion of his sentence for child rape, previously earned up to $20,000 a year writing pornography (including at least one piece on child sex) and sees no reason why he can't return to that line of work.
Jacqueline Dotson was seriously injured in an accident near Winchester, Ky., in February that police say happened when she lost control of her SUV and ran several other cars off the road before overcorrecting, which caused the SUV to roll over a guardrail and land upside down. A rescue crew labored an hour and a half with the "jaws of life" to extricate her from the vehicle, but one of her arms was already free, severed in the accident and lying on the road, still grasping a cell phone.
You talkin' to me?
Stewart Jenkins, 33, was arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, in November for allegedly pulling a gun on a man he apparently thought was disrespecting him. According to the police report, Jenkins and Patrick Hickey passed each other in an alley, and Jenkins asked, "What's up?" Hickey responded: "What's up?" Jenkins asked again: "What's up?" Hickey (again): "What's up?" Jenkins: "I'll show you what's up!" He ran into a nearby house and emerged angrily with a .38-caliber handgun. (Unfortunately for him, Patrick Hickey is a plainclothes police officer. He arrested Jenkins and recovered about 15 grams of suspected crack cocaine from the house.)
In December, more than a month before "buckshot" would be all over the news due to a misadventure at a certain Texas ranch, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the odd case of a 73-year-old Inuit woman hospitalized in Nome, Alaska, whose abdominal X-ray revealed an enlarged and photographically opaque appendix, which doctors concluded was an appendix filled with buckshot. The Inuits, doctors said, eat so many ducks and geese downed by buckshot that inevitably some buckshot remains in the cooked meat and is eaten and digested, and some migrated to the appendix, where it is trapped. The appendix was enlarged and opaque on the X-ray simply because it was overstuffed with buckshot.
After the secretary for the Miracle of Prayer Church in Grove Hill, Ala., was arrested in January on an outstanding warrant, the church's Prophet Ron Williams called congregation members (most of whom are African-American) to the Clarke County jail to protest, vowing that he wasn't going "no damn where" until she was released. As the crowd grew, and deputies warned Williams about inciting a riot, Williams became more defiant, screaming at deputies and pointing to his cell phone, yelling, "I got Johnnie Cochran on the phone right now!" (Cochran had passed away 10 months earlier.)
In Japan's Wakayama prefecture in December, Miichiro Yamashita, 70, received a suspended sentence for bringing 25 sticks of dynamite to a hospital and threatening to blow the place up unless his doctor changed his mind and gave him the treatment he wanted for his stomachache. And two women are at large in the Kenner, La., area after one slashed a Rally's restaurant manager in February with a razor blade because her requested substitution (mayonnaise for tartar sauce on her fish sandwich) was not honored. Also, in February, Kimberly Dasilva, 40, was charged in Boston with putting explosives into condoms and mailing them to people she believes are associated with her longstanding mistreatment by men, including two strip clubs where she used to work.
After Seattle police chased a carjacking suspect into a tree in February, bystanders gathered around and laughed, but the suspect, still defiant, yelled at them, "It's not funny!" (According to a KIRO-TV reporter, some in the crowd yelled back, "Yes it is!")
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