Democracy blues

In January, Robert Battle took the oath of office for his second term as a city councilman in East Chicago, Ind. — administered at the county lockup, where he is being held without bail, charged with a coldblooded murder during a drug deal. The crime made news in October (i.e., before Election Day), yet Battle still won his race. According to law, he cannot be forced out of office unless he is convicted or admits the crimes, and he had the right to vote for himself in the election (except that he failed to request an absentee ballot).

Canonical marijuana

Vireo Health of Albany, N.Y., told reporters it would soon offer the world's first certified kosher marijuana, announcing that the Orthodox Union of New York had authenticated it as having met Jewish dietary laws. Other Kosher-validating officials complained that the approval should apply only to marijuana that is eaten, not smoked.

Two habit-wearing nuns were scheduled to ask the Merced (Calif.) City Council in January to decline its prerogative under state law to ban dispensing or cultivating medical marijuana. The nuns' order makes and sells salves and tonics for pain management, using a strain of cannabis containing only a trace of psychoactive material.

The job of the researcher

Taiwanese scientists recently announced the availability of their Infant Cries Translator (iPhone and Android app), which they say can, with 77 percent accuracy (92 percent for those under 2 weeks old), tell what a baby wants by its screeches and wailings. The National Taiwan University Hospital Yunlin doctors first had to create a database of 200,000 crying sounds.

Compelling explanations

Lawyers for John Bills (former Chicago city commissioner on trial for taking bribes on a traffic-camera contract) said Bills was obviously innocent because everyone knows that, in Chicago, only bribing the mayor (or at least an alderman) will get anything done.

The continuing crisis

A former lecturer for Spanish classes at the liberal arts Amherst College near Northampton, Mass., sued the school in December after it failed to renew her contract — leading the lecturer to charge that the Spanish department had tried to solicit student course enrollment by prostitution. Lecturer Dimaris Barrios-Beltran accused her supervisor, Victoria Maillo, of hiring only attractive "teaching assistants" and encouraging them to "date" Amherst students with the ulterior motive of signing them up for Spanish classes — to boost the department's profile. (College officials said they could not corroborate the accusation; a lawyer for Barrios-Beltran said Maillo is no longer employed at Amherst.)

William Bendorf, 38, filed a lawsuit in December against the Funny Bone comedy club in Omaha and comedian/hypnotist Doug Thompson after plunging off the stage and breaking his leg following Thompson's having hypnotized him during his act. Thompson claimed that he had "snapped" Bendorf out of the trance, but the lawsuit claims that Bendorf, instead of exiting via the stairs as Thompson instructed, wandered directly toward his stage-side table because he was still "under" Thompson's spell.

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