News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF FEBRUARY 4, 2007

LEAD STORY

Inexplicable: Sudan Provost, 40, walked into the River City Bank in Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 29 and, reported the Sacramento Bee, quietly announced to employees that he had come to "rob" it, but then handed a teller his driver's license and a money order to be cashed. The teller asked if he had an account, and Provost replied, "This is not a joke. I have a gun. I do this for a living." However, he opened his bag to reveal that he had no gun and then asked for a tissue for his runny nose. The teller said she didn't have one. Provost said he'd be right back and walked across the street to a drugstore, and by the time he had returned, police were on the scene. Provost was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery.

Cultural Diversity

-- New York state food inspectors are having trouble keeping up with the illegal importation and sale of uninspected exotic meat, for the city's immigrant population, including bush meat and meat from endangered species, according to a December Associated Press report. Inspectors found, among other items openly displayed in New York City storefronts, armadillo and iguana meat, cow lungs, smoked rodent and an unidentified fish paste, along with crates of turtles and a tub of bullfrogs, and occasionally endangered gorilla and chimpanzee meat.

-- The Continued Americanization of China: (1) Though most Chinese women still prefer whiter complexions, urban professionals are beginning to tan, either by sunbathing or in salons, for that "healthy" and "fashion(able) look," according to a November Wall Street Journal dispatch. (2) Chinese urban professionals are also turning more frequently to divorce (in a country in which it has been rare), especially women, who tend to file abruptly (the so-called "flash divorce"). Said one counselor (for a November Time magazine report), "Life in (urban) China has changed so fast that if things aren't new or exciting, people just end their marriages instead of working through their problems."

Latest Religious Messages

-- A 2006 Church of England report warned that disagreeable congregants, together with the pressures of the church's "feudal system" bureaucracy, were turning priests harshly negative and creating an "irritable clergy syndrome." One of the report's authors told The Times of London in December that priests are bothered by "having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness," such as aggressive and neurotic parishioners.

-- The recent traditional Christmas Nativity play at St. Stephen's church in Tonbridge, England, centered on music from the Beach Boys, with Mary turning into a "surfer girl" to sing "God Only Knows" and the Three Wise Men portrayed as Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson performing such favorites as "Fun Fun Fun" and "Good Vibrations" (according to a December Agence France-Presse report). Said the pastor, "(N)ativity plays ... can just be a bit dull. (This) made it more realistic."

Fine Points of the Law

-- (1) Sweden's English-language The Local reported in November that prosecutors were about to release both male suspects who acknowledge being present at a 1998 murder but who each blame the other. Prosecutors concluded that since there is no additional evidence, they could not convict either man. (2) A 59-year-old German man, identified as Gerold H. and serving life for murder, refused in October to accept his release after 34 years, according to a Reuters report. Said a spokesman for the Brandenburg justice ministry, "We can't do anything if someone sentenced to life in prison doesn't want to leave."

-- Michigan Law: (1) A bill passed in November by the Michigan House of Representatives makes it a crime for a cohabiting boyfriend to pressure his pregnant girlfriend into having an abortion, including by simply moving out of the house. (2) The Michigan Court of Appeals, ruling in November, said an obscure but unambiguous state law makes any "sexual penetration" a serious sexual assault if it occurs during any other felony, including simple adultery, with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

-- Elementary schoolteacher's aide Kumi Houston of Williamson County, Texas, was fired in November after she allegedly admitted to a sheriff's detective that she allowed an 11-year-old boy to reach under her bra and fondle her (which would clearly be illegal). However, as Houston's attorney later explained, her statement (which Houston did not deny making) was not necessarily a confession. What happened, said attorney Robert Phillips, is that his client "made a statement. It may be an admission, or it may be just (her) version of what happened. That's not a confession."

-- The Alabama Supreme Court, ruling in January, told leukemia-stricken Jack Cline that state law makes it either too early or too late for him to sue the manufacturer of benzene, to which he was exposed in his factory job, and it dismissed his lawsuit. He may have known he had been exposed to a carcinogen, but he couldn't sue until the cancer was actually diagnosed, but when it finally was, years later, the state's statute of limitations had long since run out. Several justices expressed concern about the catch-22, but they were in the minority.

Least Competent Criminals

Lamest Defense: James Lane III, 27, was arrested in Carrboro, N.C., in January after police chased him, in his car and later on foot. Officers tackled Lane about 20 feet into a wooded area and recovered a white plastic bag containing a pound of marijuana. When police pulled Lane to his feet, he said that someone must have left the bag on the ground at precisely the spot in the woods where Lane fell, because he had never seen it before.

Recurring Themes

Least Competent Lawyers: Jeffrey Leonard is on death row in Kentucky for murder and had challenged the fairness of his conviction, criticizing his court-appointed defense counsel. Lawyer Ferdinand Radolovich had represented Leonard all the way through his murder trial without bothering to learn his real name, in that for his conviction and subsequent first appeal, Radolovich thought Leonard was "James Slaughter" (and he didn't even know how to spell that name, habitually writing it "Slawter"). (Also, Radolovich had told judges that he had previously handled four death penalty cases but in fact had done none.) Nonetheless, by a 7-7 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals could not conclude that better lawyering would have helped the clearly guilty Leonard.

Readers' Choice

-- (1) Neil Rodreick II, 29, shaved his body and posed as a 12-year-old boy, and then allegedly had sex with Lonnie Stiffler, 61, and Robert Snow, 43, in Chino Valley, Ariz., before all three were arrested in January (as the result of Stiffler's attempt to enroll Rodreick in a charter school as a boy). The two men were said to have been quite upset when police told them Rodreick was not 12 years old. (2) Inner Mongolian herdsman Bao Xishun, at 7-foot-9 reputed to be the world's tallest man, was recruited by a commercial aquarium in Liaoning province, China, in December to reach into the stomachs of two dolphins to extract some plastic that they had swallowed and which was making them sick. Surgical instruments had irritated the dolphins' stomach, but Bao's 41-inch arm did the trick.

Celebrate the Vegetables

The Bosnian town of Bijeljina proposed in November to build a giant cabbage monument to honor its most important crop. "We very much appreciate this vegetable," said the director of the town's tourism office. And Briton Richard Townsend, 24, on a personal mission in December, ate 36 brussels sprouts in one minute, seeking the world record, but fell seven short. He said he had trained by eating a plate of brussels sprouts every day for six weeks.

(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com or www.NewsoftheWeird.com. Send your Weird News to WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.)

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