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Un. Believable.
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Lead Story

Italian and U.K. legal authorities have recently discarded rule interpretations based on embarrassingly anachronistic stereotypes of women. In July, Italy’s Court of Cassation reversed a 1999 ruling creating a legal presumption that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be the victim of rape because such jeans would be impossible to remove without her assistance. Coincidentally, at about the same time, the British government formally removed the special, ameliorating defense of “provocation” for husbands charged with murdering their wives, thus putting domestic homicide on the same footing as other homicides. (Some husbands had received lesser penalties by claiming that their wives’ affairs had provoked them to murder.)

Compelling Explanations

-- Jonathan Williams, 33, was convicted of cocaine possession in England’s Guildford Crown Court in July, as jurors rejected his explanation that the pants he had on (containing the cocaine) were not his. That explanation also failed in August in Naples, Fla., for Richard Obdyke, 19, when police found a stolen debit card in his pants. (In both cases, the men said they had no idea whose pants they were wearing.) And in August in Corpus Christi, Texas, a 25-year-old man was arrested for drug possession during a traffic stop, despite his volunteering to police that “It’s not my truck,” and “If you find something (searching it), it’s not mine,” and “If there’s anything in that black bag, it’s not mine.”

-- Gill Switalski, 51, filed a lawsuit in London, seeking the equivalent of almost $40 million for her dismissal from the Foreign and Colonial investment firm, claiming she was fired illegally during an illness. However, F and C asserted in June that it found an instance during a particularly sickly spell for Switalski when she interviewed for a job at a competitor while demonstrating enough energy and drive to have received an offer of employment. Switalski said she was merely using an “alternative personality” during that interview.

-- In July, Leroy Mcafee, 55, was charged in Austin, Texas, with molesting an 11-year-old girl but confessed to police that he had molested two others, as well. However, he refused to describe those incidents because he wanted to save that information for his autobiography.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

-- According to police in Bethlehem, Pa., four kids (ages 9 to 14) grabbed a donation box in August at RiverPlace park (contributions to an organization that maintains the park’s portable toilets) and ran for nearby woods, with several police officers in pursuit. Three boys were caught, but the other made it a little ways into the woods before falling into a manure pit built by homeless people at their encampment.

-- About 10 years ago, reported LA Weekly in July, Southern California was awash with hysteria over household “toxic mold,” in which lawyers convinced jurors that a wide range of illnesses was caused by fungi that previously had been minor irritants controlled by ordinary cleansers. (Centers for Disease Control maintains there is no basis for such hysteria and that the only at-risk people are a tiny number vulnerable to specific fungi.) Among the mold alarmists then was announcer Ed McMahon, who famously received a multimillion-dollar settlement by claiming that mold killed his beloved dog. Recently, McMahon even more famously publicly lamented his potential bankruptcy, in large part because no one wanted to buy his house (although the reason now seems more the mortgage credit crisis than the home’s alleged toxicity).

The Litigious Society

-- Kevin Hansen filed a lawsuit in West Bend, Wis., in August, claiming that spotting a clump of hair in a steak he sliced into from a Texas Roadhouse restaurant caused “severe and permanent injuries,” pain, suffering and “disability,” requiring “extensive medical treatment.” In fact, said his lawyer Ryan Hetzel to Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, “It’s bothered the heck out of him.” (The employee who prepared the steak was fired and later pleaded guilty to a felony, explaining that he was trying to retaliate because Hansen complained about a previous order.)

-- After failing the West Virginia Bar Exam for the second time (during which he was given an extra day to complete it), Shannon Kelly filed a lawsuit in July demanding even more concessions based on his unspecified cognitive disability. The second failure was also on a special version of the exam in large type, and Kelly had been permitted to work in a room by himself. He now believes he can earn his license if he is allowed four days instead of the normal two, to make up for (according to his lawyer) “severe deficits in processing speed, cognitive fluency and rapid naming” (though it is not clear how many attorney jobs are available for someone with such a skills set).

-- The Poor Dear: Harry Shasho filed a lawsuit against New York City in August for $190,000, charging that his Bentley was poorly cared-for at the city’s automobile impound lot in 2005. It had been confiscated after Shasho fatally struck a pedestrian (for which he was later leniently sentenced, perhaps because the pedestrian was drunk). The city claims the only damage done was from the fatal collision, but Shasho believes city employees should have treated it better.

The Continuing Crisis

Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, a Muslim preacher in the western Nigerian state of Niger, told a BBC reporter in August that, although he personally has 86 wives (and 170 children), other men could not handle that many. “(M)y own power is given by Allah,” he said. “That is why I have been able to control 86 of them.” The usual maximum for Muslims is four, but Bello Abubakar said the Quran does not specify punishment for violation. Besides, he said, “I don’t go looking for (women). They come to me” because of his reputation as a healer. (Two weeks later, Reuters reported that local clerics were pressuring Bello Abubakar to divorce 82 wives of his choice, but a spokesman for the preacher said he was resisting.)

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (89) People who call the emergency-only 911 number for stupid reasons, such as Reginald Peterson, who called Jacksonville, Fla., police in August because Subway didn’t make his sandwich correctly. (90) People who seem to lose all respect for the danger of walking on railroad tracks when they listen to music on a headset or talk on cell phones (such as the two people hit by trains three weeks apart in April and May on the same rail line in suburbs of Seattle). cs