News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 20, 2004


"Fishermen" using pistols, shotguns and assault rifles are permitted on two U.S. lakes (in Vermont and Virginia) for a few weeks each spring to fire away at pike and several other species, according to a May report in The New York Times. Sportsmen (who wait in tree "fish blinds") aim just in front of their prey to kill by concussion because a direct hit renders the fish inedible. Describing the fascination, one shooter struggled in awe: "It's something that once you've done it ..." The relatively few shooters are so avid that attempts to ban the activity have gone nowhere.

Democracy Blues

The West Virginia secretary of state ordered the polls still to be open in the town of Littleton for the June 8 municipal election, even though no candidates ran for any of the seven offices and write-ins were disqualified. (The town will probably disband.) And in May, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who presided over the state's 2000 presidential recount, revealed that her absentee ballot in a March 2004 local election was not counted because she forgot to sign it. And in March, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, trying to persuade traditionalist men to let women register to vote, said in a speech, "Please, my dear brothers, let your wives and sisters go to the voter registration process. Later, you can control who she votes for, but please, let her go."

Scenes of the Surreal

(1) According to an April New York Times dispatch, the quiz show "The Mission," on the satellite TV channel of Lebanese militants Hezbollah, challenges contestants in categories such as naming Arab suicide bombers, with the winner receiving points toward the game's ultimate destination, "Jerusalem" (the retaking of which is a unifying theme of all the channel's programs). (2) Craig Gross, 28, and Mike Foster, 32, run the Christian Internet site "XXXChurch," designed to help the faithful overcome pornography and masturbation, according to a May Wired magazine report. (Recent advice: "Remain calm and tell yourself, 'You don't own me, masturbation!'" Recently, several online "parishioners" commenced a 40-day abstinence, to match the time Satan tempted Jesus in the desert.)

Government in Action

Alaska is reputed to be the state most laden with congressional overspending (thanks to its powerful U.S. Rep. Don Young and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens), and an April New York Times dispatch described two proposed, marginally useful bridges for the state that will eventually cost taxpayers more than $2.2 billion. One, almost as big as the Golden Gate bridge, would connect Ketchikan (pop. 7,800) with a 50-resident island and the town's modest airport (and would replace a five-minute ferry boat ride), and the other, a 2-mile-long span, would connect Anchorage, according to the Times, to "a port that has a single regular tenant and almost no homes or businesses."

-- Universal Health Care (for Prisoners): A judge in Wilmington, N.C., had to officially "release" accused murderer Shirley Spaulding in May, as a ploy, to get the state to start picking up her medical bills. Brunswick County was running out of money because it has paid nearly $400,000 to treat her respiratory illness while she awaits her death-penalty trial. (Fortunately, she was too sick to depart custody.)

-- Donnie Newsome, the chief administrator (called the "judge-executive") of Knott County, Ky., was convicted in October 2003 of buying votes, then denied bail during his appeal because the judge found him a "danger" to the community, and then sentenced in March 2004 to two years in prison. But Newsome still manages the county's affairs from a detention facility in Lexington, getting briefings from an assistant during visiting hours. (Kentucky law does not require the resignation of convicted officials until their appeals are exhausted.)

More Things You Didn't Realize Were Art

-- In April, London's National Portrait Gallery showed an hour-long video of star soccer player David Beckham, sleeping; artist Sam Taylor-Wood said she wanted to do an original of the ubiquitously photographed Beckham and realized there was not much that hadn't already been done. And at a March exhibit at London's Nelson's Column, guest performers took turns reading Japanese artist On Kawara's book that consists only of 271,000 selected dates that occurred between 998,031 B.C. and A.D. 1,001,980. (Said a gallery director, "On Kawara's work speaks simply and directly about a subject relevant to us all, the passage and marking of time.")

-- Not only does San Francisco's Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center (i.e., the city dump) have an "artist in residence," but sculptor Rick Carpenter is actually the 43rd person to hold that position, according to an April San Francisco Chronicle report. Carpenter said his specialty is discarded bulk items, citing, for example, the weaving he made from 40 orange extension cords, and his latest, an object stuffed with the contents of a 5-gallon bucket of wigs someone tossed.

Criminals Dealing With Disabilities

William Basil Armstrong, 56, was charged with robbing the Clark Mart in Akron, Ohio, in May; he gave up partway through, though, and had to ask the clerk to please run out to Armstrong's car and retrieve his oxygen tank, which he requires for a respiratory condition. And in November 2003, Mark Shleifer, 48, pleaded guilty in Doylestown, Pa., to possessing more than 1,000 pictures of child pornography, even though he is legally blind.

Recurring Themes

In 2002, the director of Washington, D.C.,'s National Zoo was criticized for impeding a Washington Post investigation into a spate of animal deaths at the zoo; the director had refused to release the medical records of a giraffe on the ground that she had to protect the animal's right of "privacy." In May 2004, the policy of the University of Georgia's veterinary hospital was also revealed, in an Associated Press report, to voluntarily give privacy rights to animals similar to the rights hospitals are required to give to humans under federal law.

Defense du Jour

Joseph Micale, 34, charged with manslaughter in the death of his wife, said she accidentally died while being choked during sex to heighten her orgasm (Syracuse, N.Y., January). And Sheila Davalloo, 34, was convicted of attempted murder, though she said her husband was accidentally stabbed during one of the couple's consensual rough-sex sessions (Pleasantville, N.Y., February). And Donald Marks, 40, abruptly pleaded no contest to murdering a 38-year-old prostitute, though he had claimed for over a year that she accidentally died while he was choking her in consensual rough sex (Honolulu, May).

More Things to Worry About

A small crime wave hit south Philadelphia streets late last year, with a gang of five or more men randomly attacking pedestrians, seemingly for fun, and in at least three of the incidents, the men wore boxing gloves to beat up their victims. And in April, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of part of the Patriot Act (a public document) but couldn't publicly reveal what its lawsuit claimed because such disclosure without Justice Department permission is forbidden by the Patriot Act. (The Department OK'd a heavily censored press release 22 days later.)

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