By 2009, James Washington believed he had gotten away with a 1995 murder, but then he had a heart attack, and on his deathbed, in a fit of remorse, he confessed to a confidant. ("I have to get something off my conscience," he told a guard in the jailhouse where he was serving time for a lesser, unrelated offense.) However, Washington miraculously recovered from the heart attack and tried to take back his confession, but prosecutors in Nashville, Tenn., were unfazed. They used it to augment the sparse evidence from 1995, and in October 2012 the now-healthier Washington was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 51 more years in prison.
Among the federally funded projects highlighted in the "2012 Waste Book" of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn were a $325,000 grant to develop a "robosquirrel" (to help study the somehow-confusing interaction between squirrels and rattlesnakes) and a $700,000 grant by the National Science Foundation for a New York theater company to create a musical about climate change and biodiversity (which actually opened this year, in Kansas City, and included among its concepts, according to one critic, "flying monkey poop"). Abuses of the food stamp program were also detailed, such as by one exotic dancer who, while earning $85,000, drew food stamps in an amount roughly equivalent to the sum she spent on "cosmetic enhancements."
While the Department of Veterans Affairs remains under criticism for inadequate funding for personnel disabled in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it spent in 2010 more than $5 million on training conferences just to teach bureaucrats how to administer parts of its latest collective-bargaining contract, according to an October report in the Washington Examiner. In fact, reported the Examiner, $34 million in payroll goes to department officials who work mainly on union-related activities.
"I wanted to create a self-portrait that was completely stripped of ... visual prejudice," said Polish-born New York artist Martynka Wawrzyniak, who thus chose the medium of "smell" for her gallery showing in New York City (running through mid-November). For starters, she "scientifically extracted" her hair oils, armpit perspiration and tears (to protest humans' cloaking themselves in deodorant soaps and laundry powders), and blasted visitors with whiffs of it as they entered the gallery.
- Because We Can: The Tate Liverpool museum in England was host on Oct. 19 to artist Kerry Morrison's Bird Sheet music project in which she laid down a giant blank musical score sheet under a tree and waited for birds to make "deposits" on it, which she took to represent "notes" that composer Jon Hering plans to play straight, as the "sound" of the blackbirds.
Just before a primary election in June, Albuquerque, N.M., TV station KOB apparently caught, on camera, a poll worker for two county government candidates offering potential voters miniature bottles of whiskey to sip during free rides to early voting centers. (2) Los Angeles' KCBS-TV reported in October that leaflets sponsored by the Progress and Collaboration Slate for its local candidates in Eagle Rock, Calif., also mentioned an offer of $40 worth of "medical-grade marijuana" as incentive for voting. (3) Carme Cristina Lima, 32, running for town councillor in Itacoatiara, Brazil, was arrested in October for allegedly passing out cocaine packets attached to her campaign leaflets.
- Colleen Lachowicz won her contest for a Maine state senate seat in November despite ridicule by opponents for her admitted devotion to the online game World of Warcraft. "Certainly," said an opposing-party official, "the fact that she spends so much time on a video game says something about her work ethic and ... immaturity." Her WoW character is Santiaga, an "orc (Level 85) assassination rogue" with green skin, fangs, a Mohawk and pointy ears.
- In several high-profile races across the country in November, voters rejected candidates who had been accused of wrongdoing and corruption, but Brian Banks survived. He was elected as a Michigan state representative from Detroit, with 68 percent of the vote, even though his rap sheet includes eight felony convictions for bad checks and credit card fraud. (Campaign slogan: "You Can Bank on Banks.") Also, Michigan's 11th Congressional District elected reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio, whose brother had described him as "mentally unbalanced."
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