Job Security in the Paperwork Mine: "The trucks full of paperwork come every day," wrote The Washington Post in March, down a country road in Boyers, Pa., north of Pittsburgh, and descend "into the earth" to deliver federal retiree applications to the eight "supermarket"-sized caverns 230 feet below ground where Office of Personnel Management bureaucrats process them -- manually -- and store them in 28,000 metal filing cabinets. Applications thus take 61 days on average to process (compared to Texas' automated system, which takes two). One step requires a record's index to be digitized -- but a later step requires that the digital portion be printed out for further manila-foldered file work. OPM blames contractors' technology failures and bizarrely complicated retirement laws, but no relief is in sight except the hiring of more workers (and fortunately, cave-bound paper-shuffling is a well-regarded job around Boyers).
The continuing crisis
In February, officials in Sudan seized at least 70 female sheep that had male sexual organs sewn on -- the result of livestock smugglers trying to circumvent export restrictions. (Ewes are valued more highly, and their sale is limited.) Authorities had been treating the inspections as routine until they spotted one "ram" urinating from the female posture.
• U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews announced his retirement in February, after 23 years of representing his New Jersey district, and in "tribute," The Washington Post suggested he might be the least successful lawmaker of the past two decades, in that he had sponsored a total of 646 pieces of legislation -- more than any of his contemporaries -- but that not a single one became law. In fact, Andrews has not accomplished even the easiest of all bill-sponsoring -- to name a post office or a courthouse.
• November election returns for the city council of Flint, Mich., revealed that voters chose two convicted felons (Wantwaz Davis and Eric Mays) and two other candidates who had been through federal bankruptcy. Davis never publicized his 1991 second-degree murder plea, but said he talked about it while campaigning. (The Flint Journal acknowledged that it had poorly vetted Davis' record.)
• The Internal Revenue Service reportedly hit the estate of Michael Jackson recently with a federal income tax bill of $702 million because of undervaluing properties that it owned -- including a valuation on the Jackson-owned catalog of Beatles songs at "zero." The estate reckoned that Mr. Jackson was worth a total of $7 million upon his death in 2009, but IRS placed the number at $1.125 billion. (In 2012 alone, according to Forbes magazine, Mr. Jackson earned more than any other celebrity, living or dead, at about $160 million.)
• The North Somerset office of Britain's National Health Service issued a formal apology in January to Leanda Preston, 31, who had accused it of "racism" because of the pass phrase she received to access the system for an appointment to manage her fibromyalgia. Preston, who is black, had received the random, computer-generated pass phrase "charcoal shade," which she complained was "offensive," demonstrating that NHS therefore lacked "decency" and "common sense."
Unclear on the concept
A Florida appeals court tossed out an $80,000 anti-discrimination settlement in February because the beneficiary's teenage daughter could not refrain from bragging about it -- even though the terms of the settlement required confidentiality. Gulliver Proprietary School in Miami had offered the sum to former headmaster Patrick Snay to make Snay's lawsuit go away, but Dana Snay almost immediately told her 1,200 Facebook friends that "Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. Suck it." Wrote the court, "(Snay's) daughter did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent."
A controversial landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 for the first time allowed a city to force unwilling owners to sell private property not for a school or police station or other traditional municipal necessity, but just because a developer promised to improve the neighborhood. Consequently, longtime residents such as Susette Kelo were forced off their land because the city of New London, Conn., had hopes of a prosperous buildup anchored by a new facility from the drugmaker Pfizer. The Weekly Standard magazine reported in February that, nine years down the road, Pfizer has backed out, and the 90-acre area of New London in which Kelo and others were bulldozed off of is waist-high in weeds -- an even worse blight than that which New London sacrificed private property rights in order to prevent.
News of the self-indulgent
Plastic surgeons have performed beard implants before, but only for men with facial scarring or for female-to-male transgenders. Recently, New York city surgeons report an uptick in business by men solely to achieve the proper aesthetic look. According to the New York City website DNAinfo, the procedure is the same as for hair transplants -- and takes eight hours to do, at a cost of about $7,000. Said veteran plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, "Whether you're talking about the Brooklyn hipster or the advertising executive, the look is definitely to have a bit of facial hair."
Creme de la weird
Cable's TLC channel (formerly, The Learning Channel) recently completed its fifth season of "My Strange Addiction," mostly starring a host of compulsives who apparently cannot refrain from eating that which should not be eaten (mattress stuffing, diapers, plastic bags, makeup -- plus the engaging Heather Bell, who eats paint, to her a "thicker version of warm milk"). The full-body-suited "Living Dolls" (reported here two weeks ago) led off the season -- the first time News of the Weird and "My Strange Addiction" had shared a subject since Ms. Jazz Sinkfield exhibited her 24-inch fingernails (on each finger, totaling almost 20 feet of superfluous nail) in Season 2 (and in News of the Weird in 2012) and the 22-procedure breast-enhancer Sheyla Hershey appeared in Season 3 (and in News of the Weird in 2010).
Least competent criminals
(1) Hernando County (Fla.) Sheriff's detective James Smith happened across longtime fugitive James Dixon, 53, in March and detained him, even though Dixon claimed he was actually one of his own twin brothers, Gary Dixon. On a hunch, Det. Smith called out to "Gary," "Hey, James!" -- and "Gary" quickly turned his head to see what Smith wanted. Smith said "Gary" then put his head down and acknowledged that he was really James. He was held for extradition on a 30-year-old Michigan warrant. (2) Colton Green was arrested in Decatur, Ill., in March, shortly after a nearby Circle K gas station was robbed. Police said it was not a challenging collar, in that Green was on probation and wearing an ankle monitor whose GPS trail placed him at the Circle K at the time of the robbery.
(1) A self-described "devil"-possessed Stephanie Hamman, 23, was arrested in Church Hill, Tenn., in March after driving her car through the front door of the Providence Church, then summoning her husband on the phone, and when he arrived, stabbing him in the chest for "worshipping the NASCAR race" that he had been devoted to on TV that day. (2) Police were called to a Taco Bell in Tega Cay, S.C., in March after one customer became irate that another had audibly belched in the dining area yet had not said "excuse me." The enraged man jostled the burper with a chair and grabbed at his throat, but no arrest was made.