News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

Week of December 14, 1997

-- In November, in Denver, school board candidate Lee McClendon lost his race despite a vigorous campaign promising to improve kids' performances in reading, writing and basic math; observers said the loss might have had something to do with public awareness of his 1984 guilty plea for attempted sexual assault of an 8-year-old boy, which the victim had publicized after McClendon announced his candidacy. However, the same day, voters in Chauncey, Ohio, elected Edward W. Stoll, 48, to the Village Council despite the fact that he goes to trial in February on a rape charge.

-- Where's Barry Scheck When You Need Him? Malvin Marshall, 27, was finally released from jail in North Charleston, S.C., on Oct. 29 after being locked up for six weeks because a police field test had found that he had heroin in his pocket. The state lab had finally gotten around to analyzing the substance, which was determined to be vitamin pills that had gone through a wash cycle while in his pants pocket. Said a police lieutenant, "The field test (is) not foolproof."

-- The New York Daily News reported in November that 71-year-old twin sisters Ynette Sapp and Olvette Mahan had just gotten plastic surgery (mole and wrinkles removed) on their faces purely so they would continue to look exactly alike. Said the doctor, the situation is not that unusual; for example, another identical pair was scheduled the next day.

GOVERNMENT IN ACTION

-- Recent European Unity Feuds: Farmers in Sweden are still upset, according to a report by the country's Bureau of Statistics in June, at their inability to sell straight cucumbers in Europe; EU regulations require prime cukes to bend 1 cm for every 20 cm in length. And Belgium and France were victorious in October in a European Parliament vote to require that chocolate be made only with cocoa butter and not with substitute vegetable fats; a British Parliament member complained that British chocolate has always been made with little or no cocoa butter.

-- In September, an official government wristwatch with the face of the prime minister of Malaysia went on sale at the main parliament building in Kuala Lumpur, retailing for about $470. And in June, in an announcement on the first year of operation, the state of Louisiana reported selling 100,000 of its own Royal brand condoms. State health officials claim that it is more economical to make their own than to subsidize higher-priced, brand-name condoms for high-disease-risk clients.

-- According to Chicago Sun-Times reports in June and November, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services since 1995 has doled out $22.5 million in cash and gifts to the most dysfunctional 1,370 families on their rolls, including almost $75,000 to one mother of six. DCFS's "wraparound plans" are designed to simulate middle-class environments so that children can be raised by a natural parent, but critics call the program a jackpot for precisely the worst parents in the city, in that many have been charged with abusing and neglecting their kids. Among the goods included in a typical wraparound plan are: electronic gear and "entertainment center," YMCA membership, and aikido, basketball and drama classes.

-- U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of California introduced a bill this year to end a loophole in the federal Unemployment Tax Act that made it possible for a Santa Cruz, Calif., voting monitor, who was a retired county worker, to grind out one grueling day at the polls in November, claim the next day that he was "laid off," and thereby collect about $12,000 in benefits over a two-year period.

-- According to an Associated Press dispatch in May, scientists at the Department of Agriculture's meat science research lab in Beltsville, Md., have developed an explosion system to tenderize meat by sending supersonic shock waves through it. The shock waves literally rip the muscle tissue apart on a microscopic scale, without any loss of taste. One researcher said the process could be used commercially within a year.

COURTROOM FOLLIES

-- In their divorce hearing in September in Edwardsville, Ill., Karon Watt and Greg Watt were arguing over ownership of the couple's cellular phone. Suddenly, Greg's beeper went off, and he reached for the phone to return a call, which infuriated Karon, who snatched the phone out of his hand and fled the courtroom. Greg caught up with her outside, where a brief tussle ensued, which ended when Karon bit Greg's arm, and Judge Randall Bono threatened to jail both people for contempt of court. Bono awarded custody to Karon.

-- In September, murder defendant Hosie Grant, 72, seated on a bench in a courtroom in Little Rock, Ark., with other defendants at the daily arraignment hearing, fell into a sound sleep as he awaited his case to be announced. He was still asleep later when his two daughters and a public defender entered a not-guilty plea for him, but just then, a benchmate shook him awake. Aroused from his slumber but not yet aware of the proceedings, he impulsively arose and shouted, "I plead guilty." He is charged with stabbing a close friend to death, and the judge permitted the not-guilty plea to stand.

-- In October, Italy's highest appeal court, the Court of Cessation, ruled that the breakup of a marriage was not the wife's fault even though she abandoned the husband. The wife was able to demonstrate that after two years of battling, and a fistfight, she was no longer able to indulge her mother-in-law's presence in the home, and the judges agreed the constant interference was intolerable. Rome's largest newspaper, La Repubblica, sympathized, calling the typical Italian mother-in-law "unstoppable as a panzer, omnipresent, overbearing, meddlesome and mischief-making." And in August, a Tokyo district court, citing changing times, rejected a $38,000 claim by a man who said his ex-wife, who worked full-time outside the home, nonetheless had an obligation to do all the housework.

WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

-- In July, Gary and Marlene Johnston pleaded guilty in Halton, Ontario, to cheating the government out of $11,000 (Canadian) in welfare benefits. They had posed in 1995 as a destitute couple with two kids and assets of only a 15-year-old car. However, in September 1996, they purchased a house in a well-to-do neighborhood and proceeded to park their two late-model cars and a boat in the driveway. The new house was just down the street from the house of their welfare caseworker, who spotted them in the yard.

-- In October, James T. Hilton, who police said had just carjacked a van in Bloomfield, N.J., was chased by police in West Orange into the neighborhood of Our Lady of the Valley Roman Catholic Church. Hilton slowed down and was captured after accidentally banging into two unmarked police cars driving slowly down the street and leading a 5,000-officer funeral procession for state trooper Scott M. Gonzalez.

CLICHES COME TO LIFE

-- In October, Tulsa, Okla., firefighters were called to a church during a birthday party for Mabel McCullough. The alarm had been triggered by smoke from the candles on the cake of the 95-year-old woman.

-- In July, Missouri's new vehicle safety law took effect, prohibiting people from riding in the open bed of a pickup truck. However, an exception was provided for a family transporting their kids where there are too many to ride in the cab and where the truck is the family's only vehicle. The sponsor called the exception "the Jed Clampett amendment."

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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