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People With Issues: In 1989, after his release from prison on petty crimes, John L. Stanley undertook the serious study of criminology, lecturing and even hosting a Dallas radio program on crime. But in December, he confessed to robbing a Commerce Bank in Kansas City, Mo., because he needed to return to prison to further his study, telling the judge, "[T]here are some things about crime you can't understand unless you get into the belly of the beast," and that he needed to "be secluded and do the things I need to do while I still have the time." "You can take a butterfly and put it on a light stand, but until you are a butterfly and fly, you can't understand why a butterfly flies." (Stanley showed up for sentencing in March in a wheelchair, which was the result of his, not surprisingly, being beaten up by another inmate.)

Questionable Judgments: During an emergency in December, Westminster (Md.) High School's policy on evacuating wheelchair-using students came to light, to the horror of two disabled students' parents. While smoke filled the building and the panicked students exited, teachers brought the two students to the second-floor stairwell and, rather than risk liability for mishandling them, teachers were instructed to get out themselves, and leave the students there to await trained firefighters. (A month later, a special committee clarified the policy, urging that the students be left only in smoke-free stairwells.)

Bright Ideas: Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University Medical School, told a conference in Brisbane, Australia, in March that he donates blood regularly because one of the key reasons why females outlive males is menstruation. Perls said iron loss inhibits the growth of free radicals that age cells.

The District of Calamity: In a February report to the U.S. Department of Education, the District of Columbia public school system revealed a chronic truancy rate of 23 percent (15,000 of its 65,000 students absent without excuse at least 15 days a year), many times higher than the rate for adjacent or comparable jurisdictions. (However, a March report of the D.C. inspector general partially undermined that number, pointing out that the schools' $4.5 million computer system was incapable of identifying which students are at which schools.)In February, the Washington, D.C., Department of Health chose an elementary school cafeteria as the site for a weekend sterilization/vaccination program for stray and feral cats. Although workers put down plastic sheets and towels, when students and teachers arrived at school the next day, they were overwhelmed with odors of ether and cat urine. Only then did officials decide to cancel lunch and classes so that a complete cleaning and disinfecting could take place.

The Continuing Crisis: Women's groups in Mexico City, working from a building donated by the municipal government, are preparing a retirement home for at least 65 elderly prostitutes, according to a March Reuters dispatch. Among the candidates that Reuters interviewed was Gloria Maria, who says she is 74 years old and "can't charge what the young ones do" but still has "two or three clients a day."

Unclear on the Concept: Lawrence M. Small, chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution, was convicted in 2004 for his collection of South American artifacts that include the feathers of 219 birds protected by the Endangered Species Act, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Hearst Newspapers reported in February that Small had not yet begun his sentence, in that he is still negotiating for the right to serve it by spending 100 hours lobbying Congress to change the Endangered Species Act.

Thinning the Herd: In October, two pilots of the regional Pinnacle Airlines, with no one else on board, told air controllers they were taking the craft to its highest listed altitude (41,000) feet "to have a little fun," but then engines failed. In their last communication before crashing (according to transcripts published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March), the crew asked if it was "cool" to take the plane to a lower altitude to try to restart the engines. And in separate fatal incidents, two 20-year-old men assumed that military flak vests are bulletproof. (They are designed only to protect against shrapnel.) A vest-wearing man in Orofino, Idaho, dared his friend to shoot him (December), and another, in Hobart, Ind., asked to be shot to prepare him for his upcoming military service (February).

© 2005 Chuck Shepherd

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