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Body by NASA, brain by Mattel



Accomplished toy inventor Brian Walker, 44, told the Newhouse News Service in June that he will by next summer launch himself on the world's first homemade space shot. His self-built, 9-foot spacecraft, he said, will be propelled from a 30-foot-long trailer, blasting off at 4,000 mph and using 10 tanks containing 7,000 pounds of hydrogen-peroxide fuel to take him to a height of 30 miles. A capsule will return him to earth via parachutes. (Overall expense: $250,000.) A jet-propulsion engineer at Cal Tech said that Walker's plan is actually fairly sound, in theory.

Some reassembly required

Orthopedic surgeon Nicholas Cappello had his license lifted in April by the Arkansas Medical Board for as many as 20 botched surgeries. Among Cappello's errors: metal plates screwed to the wrong bone and screws that missed the bone altogether. And patient Robert Banks sued the Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La., in March, complaining that he went in for a heart bypass in 1995 but came out merely circumcised. Doctors said the procedure was necessary to hook Banks up to the kidney-monitoring equipment he would require in the wake of his surgery. (For unrelated reasons, the surgeons decided not to perform the bypass after setting Banks up.)

Jerked around by the courts

In February, Nova Scotia provincial judge John MacDougall ruled that a doctor who had on numerous occasions masturbated two teen-aged boys in his office had not violated the law, because he had considered his unorthodox procedure a valid medical treatment for the patients (one of whom had merely complained of blurred vision after a fall). Two weeks later, a prosecutor exercised a rare constitutional procedure and indicted the doctor directly before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

Wake up and smell the coffin

Calvin Jerold Burdine's 1983 Texas death sentence was overturned by a federal judge in September 1999, based on the fact that Burdine's lawyer had slept through key portions of his trial. Because the judge ruled on the sleep issue, he was not required to decide a second issue that also may have contributed to the original death sentence: The prosecutor had been allowed to tell the jury that the openly gay Burdine should not receive a mere life sentence because "Sending `him` to the penitentiary isn't a very bad punishment," given the frequency of homosexual activity in prisons. (In June 2000, a federal appeals court heard oral arguments on Burdine's sleeping-lawyer issue.)

Up at dawn

In March, in the heat of a battle in the Mexican legislature over the adoption of Daylight Savings Time, opponent Sen. Felix Salgado put forth his strongest argument: Advancing the clocks an hour, he said, would reduce daylight time in the morning, curtailing many mananeros, or incidents of morning sex between couples. "`N`ow when you wake up," Salgado said, "your partner is no longer there because she had to take the kids to school."

There she is, Miss Attica

In Boston in June, federal judge Mark L. Wolf ruled that convicted wife-murderer Robert "Michelle" Kosilek is entitled to go to trial on his demand that the state's prison system provide him free "sexual reassignment" surgery, so that he can serve out his sentence (life without the possibility of parole) as a woman. A court-appointed psychologist recommended that Kosilek receive not only sex-organ substitution but the feminization of his face and removal of his bodily hair, as well as being granted access to makeup, hair-care products and nail polish. To ignore Kosilek's needs, the psychologist said, would further his "sadness and sense of loss" at having been born of the incorrect gender.

Nudge and a wink

In a Norfolk County, Mass., court in March, Andrew Clary, 36, pled not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, a death that occurred when -- after an argument -- he rammed her car twice with his own and forced it into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Clary told the judge that he only "tapped" the woman's car in order to get her to turn around and head to a hospital, where she could be treated for her ingestion of illegal drugs.

Alternating currency

In 1999, James Weber of Calgary, Alberta, paid his tax bill (equivalent to about $75,000 U.S.) dollar-for-dollar with Colombian pesos (worth about $50 U.S.) Weber argued that the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency had failed to print its dollar signs with two bars through the "S"; a dollar sign with only one bar through the S, he said, is used only by several South American currencies, and thus he is now paid in full. (In March 2000, an appeals court ruled against Weber, despite his having produced several favorable banking documents dating as far back as 1910.)

Always the last to know

In April, after her arrest for robbing a Springfield, Mo., Bank of America, Joyce Lingle told police that she had not read the note she handed a teller (and for which she received a bag in exchange). Lingle said she only began to suspect there had been a bank robbery after she walked out the door and saw employees lock it behind her. Married to a jailed murder suspect, Lingle was in the company of a second man during her bank transaction; she implied to police that the two men were merely using her as an unwitting accomplice.

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