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'Holistic rubrics'
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New York state school officials had promised to crack down on soft test-grading to end the near-automatic grade-advancement by students unprepared for promotion. However, a June New York Post report found that the problem lingers under the current grading guideline called "holistic rubrics." Among examples cited by the Post (from a 4th-grade math test): How many inches long is a "2-foot-long skateboard"? (Answer: 24; "half-credit" answer: 48). Also, if you have 35 book boxes, and each contains 10 books, how many books are there? (Answer: 350; "half-credit" answer: 150).

Can't Possibly Be True

• According to a May report by Seattle's KOMO-TV, former Oregon National Guardsman Gary Pfleider II is awaiting the results of his latest appeal to end the garnishment of his disability checks to cover $3,175 for gear he supposedly "lost" when he was shot in Iraq. Pfleider was hit in the leg by a sniper in 2007, bled profusely and was evacuated (and is awaiting his ninth surgery on the leg), but the Oregon Guard apparently believes that, despite the trauma, Pfleider somehow should have paused to inventory the equipment he was carrying and to make arrangements for its safekeeping during his imminent hospitalization.

• To ease the crowds entering the Texas Capitol building in Austin, officials recently opened an "express" line, bypassing most security precautions, for selected visitors and personnel. Obviously, members of the legislature use the express line, along with Capitol employees presenting ID. A third category of favored visitors: anyone with a Texas concealed-weapons carry permit. The Houston Chronicle reported in June that the lobbyists frustrated with the long security lines have been applying for concealed-weapons permits even if they expect never to touch a firearm.

• Though he reportedly hacks more frequently lately, 2-year-old Ardi Rizal of Banyuasin, Indonesia, continues to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, according to a May dispatch in London's Daily Mail and other news reports. Local officials offered Ardi's parents a new car if they convinced him to quit, but the mother warned that her son throws massive, head-banging tantrums if deprived of his smokes, and his fisherman father, noting Ardi's generous girth, says the kid looks fine to him. (Unfortunately for the parents, Ardi prefers only a certain high-end brand, which costs the equivalent of about $2.75 a pack.)

• Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported in May that Qantas Airways has acknowledged re-using plastic knives and forks from its in-flight meals as many as 30 times before discarding them. One supplier who visited Qantas' Q Catering center in the Sydney suburb of Mascot was told that the Qantas cutlery's plastic is "more robust" than ordinary plastic utensils and is completely safe (after special cleaning).

• It took until spring 2010 (eight years after the invasion of Afghanistan) for the U.S. Army to realize that enemy fighters in that vast, mountainous country were difficult to shoot at because they are often so far away. The Associated Press reported in May that the Army is only now reconsidering its reliance on standard M-4 rifles (whose effective range is under 1,000 feet), in favor of M-110 sniper rifles (effective at more than 2,500 feet). (Shorter-range rifles work well in Iraq, since the fighting is closer-in.)

Unclear on the Concept

Psychologists generally discount that children at age 6 can form a specific intention to "sexually" molest anyone (as opposed to roughing someone up or being obnoxious), but the principal of Downey Elementary School in Brockton, Mass., nonetheless suspended a first-grade boy in 2006 for "sexual harassment." The boy admitted putting two fingers inside a girl's waistband, but his parents sued, livid that a "sexual" motive had been assumed. In February 2010, Brockton's daily Enterprise reported that the school would pay the boy a $160,000 settlement for the principal's overzealousness.

The Year of the Blind!

(1) In Urfa, Turkey, in April, pop singer Metin Senturk set the world speed record for an unassisted blind driver (in a Ferrari F430, at about 175 mph), an experience he called "like a dance with death." (2) In March in Watertown, Mass., two blind teenage fencers from local schools for the blind squared off in what was believed to be the first such match ever. (3) The Edinburgh (Scotland) Arts Festival announced in June that it would display, beginning in August, an exhibit of images taken by the blind photographer Rosita McKenzie, 56.

Sucker Nation

• The New Living Expo in San Francisco in May showcased such "healthy-living" breakthroughs as a $1,200 machine promising to suck toxins out of your body; a $249 silver amulet to protect you from "deadly" cell phone radiation; and a $15,000 Turbo Sonic if your red blood cells need to be "de-clumped." A Canadian study at the same time found that 97 percent of people who admitted buying "anti-aging" products did not think they would work but nevertheless confessed their need to hope like those who "hope" the viper-venom-derived $525 Euoko Y-30 Intense Lift Concentrate will prolong their lives.

• Recurring Theme: Once again, the larger question in a "swindling psychic" case is not how Portland, Ore., "psychic" Cathy Stevens managed to separate Mr. Drakar Druella, 42, from his $150,000 (which she needed, to cure Druella's "negative energy"). The larger question is how did a man so totally lacking in street smarts manage to amass $150,000 to begin with. Explained Druella, "(Stevens) could cry (at) will. (She) becomes what you want and need her to be."

People With Issues

At her arraignment in Missoula, Mont., in April, Jackiya Ford, 37, refused to enter a plea to various fraud charges because, she explained, "Montana" is not a legal entity. According to the prosecutor, after Ford was shown a house for sale by a local agent, she tried to cut out the middleman by filing an ownership claim to it and all the land within 20 miles of it (although she generously offered to sell it to the current residents, aka the legal owners, for $900,000, but only in "silver or gold"). Armed with her (fraudulent) ownership document, she broke into the home and posted a no-trespassing sign (the only visitors allowed: people authorized by "our Lord and Savior Yahushua"). (As if she weren't busy enough, she also disclosed that she is pregnant.) cs

Armed and Clumsy (All New!)

In this latest collection of men who accidentally shot themselves recently, private parts were the center of attention. University of Illinois campus police officer Bryan Mallin accidentally shot himself in the butt while shopping in Chicago (March), and Timothy Davis, 22, digging through a drawer in Fort Myers, Fla., last October, also accidentally shot himself in the butt. And four other men (a shopper at a Lowe's Home Improvement store in Lynnwood, Wash., a 17-year-old in Vallejo, Calif., 20-year-old Jeffrey Disney in Hamilton, Ohio, and 50-year-old David Blurton, in Dillon, Colo.) accidentally shot themselves in what for men is their most cherished spot.

A News of the Weird Classic (August 2004)

In July (2004), police were summoned to an upscale office building in St. Louis, Mo., on a report of a man roaming the halls with a gun, and on arrival, officers found some workers hiding under desks and in closets and others having fled the building. Police concluded that two lawyers, Gary Burger and Mark Cantor, were once again playing their game in the hallways, stalking each other with BB guns and occasionally firing. Most workers did not know that the men were playing, but one did because she had been shot in the finger and shoulder after walking into a previous battle. Police said they would file gun charges, and one officer said the perps would be tried "as adults" (i.e., not in the juvenile court system).