News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF FEBRUARY 17, 2002

LEAD STORIES

-- The leadership of the Aryan Nations white supremacy organization kicked out its founder, Richard Butler, in January for allegedly tarnishing the organization's name, in that, according to one leader, Butler "surrounded himself with idiots." That current leader said the group needed to get rid of the "troublemakers and riffraff" to "clean up (our) image," though he was the same leader who recently threatened to "leave the dead bodies of the enemy scattered everywhere." (Butler's associates lost the group's 20-acre Idaho compound last year after an incident in which they fired at an innocent motorist whose engine had backfired, thinking the loud noise was the start of a government siege; the motorist's subsequent victorious lawsuit for $6.3 million forced the sale of the compound.)

-- In January, murder defendant Ernest Spann, 35, an 11th-grade dropout serving as his own lawyer (dressed throughout the trial in his prison uniform because he is serving a 10-year sentence on drug charges), embarrassed a prosecutor by convincing a jury in Tampa, Fla., to acquit him in less than three hours of deliberation. At an earlier trial, Spann (with the help of a public defender) earned a hung jury, but he told the judge this time that he thought he could do better by himself.

Jailhouse Sperm Yearning to Be Free

In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that federal inmate William Gerber had a constitutional right to procreate and so reinstated Gerber's lawsuit against his warden for preventing him from mailing sperm home to his wife; the future Gerber baby would not only have a questionable genetic legacy (Dad's a recidivist drug and firearms convict) but a single-parent family (Dad's serving 111 years). And in October, Mexican singer Gloria Trevi, wanted by police at home but jailed in Brazil, was reported to have inseminated herself with smuggled sperm so that, due to pregnancy, she could avoid extradition (Rio de Janeiro). And the sheriff in Syracuse, N.Y., reported in November that a female inmate had been impregnated by her husband-inmate during a two-minute "contact" visit; the woman said later it took them only 30 seconds, anyway.

Government in Action

-- As one of his last acts in office in November, outgoing Atlanta city councilman Lee Morris tried to vote through name-changes for two obscure streets, to the names of his two youngest kids (in that they had complained to Dad that he had six years earlier gotten a street named for his other daughter). Morris defended his action as an appropriate reward for his apparently nearly perfect children: "The only thing they ever asked from me was this." (Several days later, after constituent complaints, he changed his mind.)

-- In November, Mayor Carolyn Risher of Inglis, Fla. (pop. 1,400) issued an official proclamation (and embedded copies in posts at four entrance points to the city) declaring her town to be a Satan-free zone. She said she was concerned with kids dressing "Goth," as well as DUI drivers and child molesters: "We are taking everything back that the devil ever stole from us." (In January, the Town Council ruled Risher's action was unofficial.) And in December, another Florida mayor, Greg Bittner of Howey-in-the-Hills (pop. 850), resigned after complaints from the Town Council over his repeated rants that the town should buy a machine to make "colloidal silver" supplements, which he believes kill anthrax spores and otherwise improve public health (despite government warnings of their toxicity).

Great Art!

-- In an earnest anti-terrorism exhibition in Kayseri, Turkey, in October, the top prizes were won by (1) two bakers who made a 5-foot-high cake topped by two skyscrapers, one with a hole near the top and the other with an icing-made plane embedded in it and (2) a men's hairstylist who created a swept-up look that formed hair into twin towers.

-- Britain's most prestigious annual award for unconventional art (the Turner Prize, with more than $30,000 in prize money) went in December to Martin Creed, 33 (who once described his work as about the qualities of "nothing" and who was described in a news report as "looking utterly bewildered" upon being named the winner), for an installation consisting only of an empty room in which lights switch on and off automatically every five seconds.

-- The French artist Cho was profiled in a December BBC News report for his street-beautification project of sticking little flags into some of the many piles of dog droppings on Paris sidewalks (an estimated 5,800 tons per year) and then painting artistic borders around them.

People Different From Us

-- In October, authorities in Louisville added Kentucky to the list of states in which Dennis Lee has been charged with violating consumer protection laws. Lee was arrested when he attempted to conduct his standard seminar selling dealerships for a machine that supposedly generates free electricity. Despite abundant evidence of Lee's quackery submitted by physicists and engineers in Vermont, Maine, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Alaska, he continues in sincerity to tout his technology. As an example, he says a fuel he created, consisting of equal parts pickle juice, soda pop, water, crude oil, gas, soy sauce, human urine and perfume, can power an internal combustion engine.

Least Competent People

In January, only days after outgoing Cleveland mayor Michael R. White left the city on what he said was "solid financial footing" with an $11.8 million surplus, the incoming mayor found that White's finance director Kelly Clark had never bothered to balance the books and in fact had no idea how she came up with the $11.8 million figure. According to the incoming team, Clark actually admitted being unaware that reconciling the books was a prerequisite to declaring a surplus.

Recurring Themes

Law enforcement authorities continue to contend not only with people breaking out of jails but into them, too, such as Joel Damen Montoya, 26, found in September with bolt cutters outside the fence at the prison in Salem, Ore., from which he had been released earlier in the day, and an intoxicated Mark Delude, 39, trying to come in over the fence at the County Work Camp in St. Johnsbury, Vt., in December, apparently bringing beer back for the boys. And James J. Cesarez, 36, was arrested at a St. Croix Falls, Wis., Wal-mart in November allegedly shoplifting toys and medications and was released on bond; that night, someone smashed a window at the police station and grabbed only the box containing Cesarez's shoplifted items. (Cesarez was re-arrested a short time later.)

Our Civilization in Decline

Under Oregon's system of grading its public schools' performance, 99 percent scored satisfactory or better last year, including schools in which half to two-thirds of students failed state reading and math tests. And former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic, still being hunted by the United Nations for war crimes, published a book of poetry, "From the Crazy Spear to the Black Fairy Tale" (January). And in the new "Dibbles and Dollars" board game, on sale in prominent stores in England, players earn money-points by selling drugs and bribing the police, and can actually draw a card that awards them about $250,000 in points for kidnapping a young blond-haired girl (December).

And, in the Last Month ...

A 40-year-old man smashed a theater's soda fountain and cash register and a plant in the lobby because he was upset at the excessive violence in "Lord of the Rings" (Terrace, British Columbia). Researchers found that men with high levels of the pollutant PCB in their bodies are more likely to father boys than girls (East Lansing, Mich.). A 32-year-old man (5-foot-6, 160 pounds) became the first inmate to escape by squeezing through a prison's "escape-proof" cell windows only 6 inches wide (Frostproof, Fla.). Two female streakers were acquitted of indecent conduct because state law penalizes only "exposure" of the genitals, which, said the judge, almost never happens to females since their organs are mostly internal (Bangor, Maine).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Newsweird@aol.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

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