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The pudgy and the pale, large-scale human error and more 

In the midst of World Cup fever, readers might have missed Germany's win over host Barbados in June for the Woz Challenge Cup, following an eight-team polo tournament with players not on horses but Segways. The sport is said to have been created by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, whose Silicon Valley Aftershocks competed again this year in Barbados (but last won the Cup in 2007). Wozniak told ESPN.com that his own polo skills are fading, but the San Jose Mercury News reported in May that Woz's fearlessness on the Segway seems hardly diminished. (The Mercury News report, on the Aftershocks' local, nerd-populated league, described the players as "the pudgy and the pale" and "geek chic.")

The Continuing Crisis: Stories of epic sportsmanship warm the public's heart, but there is also epic "cutthroat," such as by Monrovia (Calif.) High School girls' track coach Mike Knowles. Knowles' team had just been defeated for first place in the last event of the April league championship meet — by a record-setting pole vault by South Pasadena High School's Robin Laird, edging her team over Monrovia, 66-61. But then Knowles noticed that Laird was wearing a flimsy, string "friendship" bracelet, thus violating a national high school athletics' jewelry rule. He notified officials, who were forced to disqualify Laird and declare Monrovia the champion, 65-62. "This is my 30th year coaching track," Knowles said later. "I know a lot of rules and regulations."

Universal health insurance cannot come soon enough for uninsured Kathy Myers, 41, of Niles, Mich., who, suffering an increasingly painful shoulder injury, has been continually turned away from emergency rooms because the condition was not life-threatening. In June, as a last resort, she took a gun and shot herself in the shoulder, hoping for a wound serious enough for ER treatment. Alas, she missed major arteries and bones and was again sent home, except with even more pain.

Britain's Countess of Wemyss and March, now 67, is a hands-on manager-fundraiser for the Beckley Trust — U.K.'s leading advocacy organization for legalizing marijuana, according to an April profile by the Daily Mail. However, she has not forsaken an earlier psychotropic-promoting campaign. In her early 20s, when she was Amanda Feilding, she extolled the virtues of trepanation (to "broaden ... awareness" by increasing the oxygen in the brain, directly, by drilling a hole in one's head). Feilding's first boyfriend wrote the book on the process (Bore Hole), and her husband, the flamboyant 13th Earl of Wemyss, has also been trepanned. The Countess still expresses hope that the National Health Service will eventually cover trepanning.

Great Expectorations: People who live or work in New York City believe themselves to be among the world's toughest and hardiest, but at least 51 of them are apparently legendarily soft: the 51 city bus drivers who between them took 3,200 days of paid leave last year to "heal" over the single workplace "injury" of being spit on by passengers. (Thirty-two other spit-upon drivers did not request leave.) An official with the Transport Workers Union called spitting "physically and psychologically traumatic" and requiring "recuperat[ion]."

The prominent Howrah bridge in Calcutta, India, has become a serious safety risk, according to a May report for the Calcutta Port Trust, because the steel hoods protecting the pillars holding up the bridge have been thinned by 50 percent in recent years. Engineers believe the corrosion has been caused almost entirely by the chemicals in gutkha, the popular chewing tobacco/herb concoction, which produces expectorants routinely hocked onto the bridge by the 500,000 pedestrians who cross it every day.

Politicians Who Need to Wash Their Mouths Out With Soap: 1) At a public meeting of the Dixon, Calif., City Council in May, Councilman Michael Ceremello refused to yield the floor to a colleague ("[Y]ou don't have the floor. Please sit back and shut the fuck up"). 2) Paul Gogarty, a Member of Ireland's Parliament, during a public session in May, answering the criticism of an opponent ("With all due respect ... fuck you, Deputy Stagg, fuck you.").

Fine Points of the Law: Inventor Jiro Takashima, 75, maintains that his Pro-State massager is a serious medical device (retailing for about $80), but his daughter/partner Amy Sung, 35, simultaneously markets it as a prostate sex-play toy called the Aneros at adult novelty stores (retailing for about $50). According to a June Houston Chronicle report, Takashima's booth at medical conventions is popular, but at sex expos, he and his daughter are "rock stars." However, since the Pro-State/Aneros was intended as a medical device, competing sex-toy makers have felt free to copy Aneros' design, and Takashima's lawsuit to stop them is now before a federal court in Houston.

The District(s) of Calamity: Washington, D.C., Attorney General Peter Nickles ordered an investigation in June after learning that the city's payroll office had, over a seven-year period, failed to remit the life-insurance premiums deducted from the paychecks of at least 1,400 employees. Already, one employee had been told that her policy had been canceled because of the unremitted premiums. (Until the investigation is finished, it is impossible to say which of the two usual explanations of chronic D.C. bureaucratic dysfunction — theft or "large-scale human error" — is applicable.)

Vying in recent years with Washington, D.C., as the nation's "district of calamity" is Detroit, whose previous mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was in May ordered to prison to serve one-and-a-half to five years after repeatedly violating his probation on his conviction for obstruction of justice. In June, Detroit's school board president Otis Mathis resigned under fire, then tried to unresign by offering to cure himself of the behavior that started his downfall, specifically, Mathis' touching and fondling himself during several one-on-one meetings with the school system's General Superintendent, Teresa Gueyser.

The Aristocrats! In the space of about 30 minutes on a June morning, according to a Dayton Daily News report, Brian Horst, 35, shoplifted several packages of meat and a jug of Mad Dog 20/20 wine from a store, inexplicably rolled a stainless-steel tank of carbon dioxide on wheels away from a restaurant, and disabled an ATM by pounding it with a rock (after several witnesses spotted him in conversation with the screen, apparently trying to reason with the machine or possibly with an imaginary employee inside it).

The Jesus and Mary World Tour (all-new): Recent Playdates: 1) Old Forge, Pa., February (Jesus appearing in a bucket of sauce at Brownie's Famous Pizzeria). 2) Lockport, N.Y., December (joint appearance of Jesus and Mary in an orange, sliced open on Christmas morning). 3) Rockford, Ill., April (Jesus appearing in the MRI of a thoracic spine examination). 4) Brownsville, Texas, May (Mary appearing on bark from a tree toppled during a storm). 5) Salford, England, February (Jesus appearing on a frying pan following the burning of a pancake). 6) Old Hatfield, England, February (Jesus appearing on a partially burned log in a fireplace).

A News of the Weird Classic (September 2003): Tensions were brewing in the family of Zell Kravinsky, 48, and his psychiatrist/wife Emily over what she believes is his excessive altruism (according to an August 2003 profile in the New York Times). Kravinsky is not just a passionate philanthropist (from his fortune in commercial real estate), but such a strict utilitarian that he says he would sacrifice his one good kidney (he's already donated the other one) if it were needed by someone doing more social good than he. "No one should have two kidneys," he says, "until everyone has one." He said he cannot value his own kids more than anyone else's, a point that has angered his parents and caused Emily to threaten divorce and two friends to abandon him.

© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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