Despite a $7.5 million budget deficit, the city of Berkeley, Calif., bought a 40-foot-long refrigerated trailer last year for the sole purpose of storing shopping carts that had been commandeered by homeless people for their "stuff" but then abandoned. According to a November 2004 report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the city says the freezer prevents vermin infestation while authorities wait (up to 90 days) for the "owners" to reclaim their belongings. Critics of the program said the city should just confiscate the shopping carts, most of which had been stolen from merchants in the first place and almost all of which are never claimed, anyway.
In underreported November election returns: Notorious Florida radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem lost his race for Pinellas County sheriff, and his Tampa radio competitor "Dave the Dwarf" Flood lost for a conservation-panel seat (but each got nearly 30 percent of the vote). The mayor of Arvin, Calif., Juan Olivares, was arrested the day before polls opened, charged with child molesting. (Voters ousted him.) Peter Stevenson, losing candidate for Vermont lieutenant governor, appeared at the only televised debate with a fake arrow through his head and blood on his clothes. Bruce Borders won, becoming the Indiana General Assembly's only Elvis impersonator. Losing Pennsylvania congressional candidate Arthur Farnsworth, who ran on an anti-tax platform, was arrested three days after the election for tax evasion.
Fine Points of the Law
In 1998, a New York jury said Kenneth H. Payne murdered a man, but the state's highest court set him free in October 2004, with no strings attached. The jury had convicted him of "depraved indifference" murder (rejecting "intentional" murder), but the Court of Appeals said the circumstances of the crime better fit the latter rather than the former. Noting that state prosecutors have often used "depraved indifference" as a crutch for juries that might be reluctant to call a murder "intentional," the court decided to send district attorneys a message by essentially giving Payne a free murder.
More Scenes of the Surreal
(1) According to an October Reuters dispatch, Afghan women are being vigorously recruited for the police force even though there are still no female uniforms, and the crews being trained by the United States wear their everyday jewelry, accessories, stockings, high heels and brightly colored head scarves (but still appeared to be highly motivated). (2) The U.S. Forest Service, acting under its new policy of directly billing culpable parties for firefighting costs, said in October that it was preparing to send Ryan Unger, 18, of Wenatchee, Wash., an invoice for $10 million for his having started the August fires in central Washington.
Government in Action
-- Public Servant: The school superintendent of Beverly, Mass., William H. Lupini, decided to leave that $130,000-a-year job in May and take the $148,000-a-year job as school superintendent in Brookline, Mass. However, since Brookline's school year did not start until July, and since Lupini perhaps felt there were no other "school superintendent" jobs available covering the interim month of June, he applied for $2,332 in unemployment compensation for that month, as reported in the Beverly Citizen newspaper.
-- The Chicago Sun-Times reported in November that Illinois officials had decided to spend $115,000 in federal money to distribute 2.4 million condoms to help reduce sexually transmitted diseases among the young, but also concluded that the young might need special incentives to actually use the condoms. Consequently, bureaucrats decided that 900,000 would be in colors (orange, green, red or blue) and that 300,000 others would be flavored (orange, lemon, grape, cherry), to encourage their use in oral sex. State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger objected to the distribution of what he called "French ticklers" and suggested that all condoms should be "army green, utilitarian, low-priced." (Update: Gov. Rod Blagojevich subsequently eliminated the colors/flavors option.)
-- In November, the Federation of American Scientists revealed the existence of a recent U.S. Air Force-paid study of psychic teleportation prepared by true-believing Nevada physicist Eric Davis, who wrote that moving oneself from location to location through mind powers is "quite real and can be controlled." An Air Force Research Lab spokesman defended his agency's use of UFO and spoon-bending reports and Soviet and Chinese studies of psychics, telling USA Today, "If we don't turn over stones, we don't know if we have missed something."
-- Three of the five National Transportation Safety Board members criticized a fourth, the chairman, in a personal letter obtained by the St. Petersburg Times in September. According to the letter, Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners was getting too political (the board is supposedly nonpartisan) and too controlling (the board is traditionally quite collegial), and the Times reported that members and staffers had complained privately that Engleman Conners would sometimes call them in advance of public meetings to negotiate clothing, in order to discourage outfits that would clash with her own.
People With Issues
In October, prominent Albany, N.Y., pediatric neurologist Phillip Riback was sentenced to 48 years in prison after his conviction on 28 sexual-abuse counts against 12 boys, but he continued to insist that his actions were simply "misconstrued," disputing testimony not only that he touched the boys inappropriately but that he had them spit on his face and into his mouth. Riback's lawyer said his client suffers from a disorder that makes socializing difficult: "He has a pattern of quirky, entertaining behavior as a way of relating that simply goes too far."
Least Competent Criminals
In addition to his poor performance on a field sobriety test, the chief evidence that Frank Hersha, 28, was driving drunk in Manchester, Conn., in October was that police spotted him trying to order from the drive-thru window of a local restaurant that was obviously closed. And in Watertown, Mass., a playful Kudzai Kwenda, 23, accidentally locked handcuffs on his wrist at home in October, and figured they would know how to get them off at the local police station, but shortly after arrival, he was jailed because he had apparently forgotten there was an arrest warrant out against him.
Two months ago, News of the Weird reported on computer technology that would permit quasi-insertive sexual intercourse by a remote user (the Sinulator). In just a short step from that, hunter John Underwood announced in November that he had set up the equipment for "hunters" to fire a rifle over the Internet at deer, antelope and wild pigs on his 330-acre ranch near San Antonio, Texas (but opposition is mounting, and state regulators may step in, although current law is said to be written in a way that could not cover Internet hunting). Underwood would provide animal retrieval and shipping services, and said his business would be especially valuable for disabled sportsmen.
Karen Stolzmann, 44, was arrested in October in Portage, Wis., and charged with possession of stolen property, specifically, her long-dead boyfriend's ashes, which police say she dug up more than 10 years ago, perhaps to taunt his family, with whom she never got along. Other items that had been buried with him were found in her possession, and authorities speculate that the beer the family buried as tribute had long since been drunk by Stolzmann. (The couple reportedly had a stormy relationship, and the family believes she provoked his suicide.)
More Things to Worry About
(1) A journal study by Maastricht University in The Netherlands concluded that even the air quality alongside major highways is not as dangerous as the air inside the typical church (with candles, incense and poor ventilation). (2) A Junction City, Ore., high school student was arrested after he and a pal allegedly distributed a DVD they had made, complete with rap-music sound track, of them beating up a classmate they had selected at random.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)
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