• Librarian Graham Barker, 45, of Perth, Australia, casually revealed to a reporter in October that his hobby of 26 years — harvesting his own navel lint daily, just before he showers — has now won acclaim in the Guinness Book of World Records. His three-jar collection (a fourth is in progress) has been sold to a local museum. His pastime, he told London’s Daily Mail in October, “costs nothing and takes almost no time or effort so there is no compelling reason to stop.” Barker, who also collects McDonald’s tray liners, said he once did a “navel lint survey,” and “a handful of respondents” “confessed” to the hobby. “One guy might have persisted, but he got married, and his wife ordered him to stop.”
The Continuing Crisis
• Bolivia’s president Evo Morales, the former union leader and coca farmer known for hard-nosed political combat, is also a fanatical soccer player and drew worldwide video attention in October for an incident during a supposedly friendly match between his pals and a team headed by the mayor of La Paz. After absorbing a vicious foul five minutes into the contest (resulting in a leg gash), President Morales confronted the offender and kneed him in his (as local media described it) “testicular zone,” leaving the player curled on the ground. Afterward, Morales’ bodyguards briefly threatened the gasher with arrest.
• Fathers of the Year: (1) Real Father: In September, a judge in Kent County, Mich., finally ordered Howard Veal, 44, to prison to serve at least two years for failure to pay child support. He is more than $500,000 behind in payments to 14 mothers for the 23 children he has fathered. Authorities suspect there are even more. (2) Fake Father: French officials arrested a 54-year-old immigrant in September on suspicion of welfare fraud. They had recently begun to notice the man applying for government benefits for 55 children by 55 different mothers. (He may have fathered none at all.)
• Swiss artist Gianni Motti has been displaying (through the end of November) a bar of soap at Zurich’s Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, claiming it was made from fat that had been liposuctioned from Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Motti said a clinic employee had surreptitiously given him the fat following Berlusconi’s treatment in 2004, but the clinic has denied any involvement.
• David Rees draws the political cartoon “Get Your War On,” but in his new day job, he is an artisan — of pencil-sharpening. “With an electric pencil sharpener, a pencil is meat,” he complained to the Los Angeles Times in August. For $15 (postage paid), Rees will lovingly, painstakingly sharpen a customer’s favorite pencil or one of his own classic No. 2’s and ship it in a secure tube to protect its newly super-sharp point. Rees also gives periodic exhibitions, wearing safety goggles and apron, to demonstrate his guarantee of “respect” for the instruments — “an authentic interaction with your pencil.”
• The investigative journalism website ProPublica.org, curious about the workers being hired in the mortgage industry’s massive, rushed re-examination of home loans previously foreclosed upon but which may have been processed illegally, began scouring the classified ads in October and November. Result: Though most employers “preferred” college graduates with credit-industry experience, it was clear from the entry-level wages offered that many were accepted only with high school educations, with at least some barely familiar with the concept of mortgages. (One staffing agency, offering $10 to $12 an hour, sought a “Supervisor of Foreclosure Department,” but that position, also, required only a high school diploma.)
• Life Imitates 100 Sci-Fi Movies: At a conference in Vancouver in October, University of California, San Francisco researcher Charles Chiu disclosed that a never-before-detected virus that partially wiped out a monkey colony in a lab in Davis, Calif., recently appeared to have “jumped” from its species onto a human scientist at the facility. However, Chiu and his research team said there is “no cause for alarm at this time.”
• Smooth Reaction: In November, after her fourth-grade son was allegedly slapped by his teacher at a Kansas City, Mo., elementary school (son, black; teacher, white), Lisa Henry Bowen submitted a 40-page list of reparations she expects from President Obama and two dozen other officials. Included in the many demands: $1.25 million in cash, $13,500 in Wal-Mart gift cards, free college education, Disney World vacations, private tennis lessons, an African safari, her mortgage paid off, home remodeling, nine years of free medical and dental coverage, and a nine-year “consulting contract” with the school district at $15,000 a month. Anticipating criticism that she had gone too far, she added that opponents can “kiss my entire black a—!!!!!! I haven’t begun to go far enough!!!!!!!”
• Centuries ago, women who devoted themselves to the Hindu goddess Devadasi were priestesses from upper castes, but over time, the temples began to use “Devadasis” merely as prostitutes to raise money, according to a new British documentary by Sarah Harris, who was interviewed in September by London’s The Independent. As before, girls are offered to the temples by their parents by age 3 and perform chores, but nowadays, at puberty, the temple begins to cash in on them. India made this practice illegal in 1988, but it endures, largely because the “Devadasis” (now, almost exclusively from lower castes) have, as career alternatives, only farm labor and latrine-cleaning.
• Incoming University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley told reporters in September of encountering one unexpected problem: staph infections caused by “the worst shower discipline of any team I’ve ever been around.” He said he had recently run a clinic on “application of soap to the rag” and “making sure you hit all your body.”
• Formulas: (1) In July, researchers at University of Manchester devised a mathematical formula for the perfect handshake. Said psychology professor Geoffrey Beattie, “(U)ntil now there has not been a guide showing people how they should shake hands.” Professor Beattie’s work incorporates 12 key measures, including cool, dry palms; firm wrists; strong grips; eye contact; and using “three shakes.” (2) Researchers from the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada and the University of Portsmouth in England, in a journal article released in May, “proved” by “flotation dynamics” and “rotation dynamics,” altered for “external surface area,” that giraffes can swim — although they are probably terrible at it because of their odd shape.
Least Competent Criminals
• Judgment-Challenged: (1) Tommy Riser of Blaine, Wash., had a rough Sept. 13. After a bout of drinking, he crashed a truck into a utility pole, and a few minutes later, crashed his wife’s car into a guardrail trying to drive away. Later, he retrieved his personal tow truck and drove it back to the scene, intending to tow the two crashed vehicles home. However, a sheriff’s deputy was on hand and, noting that Riser was still tipsy, charged him with three separate DUIs. (2) Theodore Davenport Jr., 53, who was wanted for robbing the same PNC Bank branch in Harrisburg, Pa., twice in the previous month, was arrested in November when he approached a teller at that bank to inquire about the balance in his own account.
An Odd Files Classic (February 1992)
• Bedford, Pa., district judge Charles O. Guyer was charged in August (1991) with improperly favoring a defendant in his courtroom. Police said Guyer privately offered a lenient sentence to a 21-year-old man on the condition that the man would allow Guyer to shampoo his hair. The defendant reported the offer to authorities, and two undercover police officers, claiming to be friends of the defendant, allowed Guyer to wash their hair to gather evidence. (Guyer went on to resign in May 1992 after apologizing for his conduct and agreeing to forfeit his pension benefits.)