-- A University College London professor told a Royal Society Edinburgh debate in February that human evolution is basically over, in that modern medicine and lifestyles assure that virtually all genes, and not just the "fittest" ones, are making it through to the next generation. Despite modern improvements, said Professor Steve Jones, brain size and musculature are stagnating, and because of increased human mobility, Earthlings will eventually mostly consist of brown-skinned people without sharp variations in traits.
-- The federal farm subsidy program, renewed consistently since 1933 as help for the struggling family farmer, was revealed in January to allocate 73 percent of its subsidies to just 10 percent of farmers, almost all of whom are well-off (according to government data published by the Environmental Working Group). For example, a man who owns a tractor dealership among other businesses and who lives in a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Elaine, Ark., has collected $38 million in subsidies since 1996. Among other problems with the subsidy program (some of which are being addressed this month by Congress): It guarantees high prices to crops that are already plentiful worldwide; it subsidizes only farms of certain favored commodities and not those producing fruits, vegetables or cattle; and it allows farmers to exceed the subsidy ceiling merely by establishing a second corporation.
Donald S. Guthrie, Lock Haven, Pa., accused of robbing the M&T Bank in January, said he did it to pay the bail bondsman's bill from his previous arrest. Maurice Gladney, 21, accused of a street robbery in St. Louis this month, said he did it to deal with his distress at the Rams' loss in the Super Bowl. Robert Fremer, 48, Inverness, Fla., accused of robbing a Circle K convenience store in January, and Douglas Lloyd Harrison, 48, Salem, Ore., accused of robbing a U.S. Bank branch in January, said they did it because they needed to get back into jail because jail felt like "home" to them.
-- In December, Cuban political refugee Jorge Casanova, 61, was convicted in Albuquerque, N.M., on six counts of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl, despite his claims of impossibility. The girl said Casanova had intercourse with her numerous times and that his sex organ was of normal size, but Casanova's ex-wife corroborated his testimony that, because he was tortured by the Castro regime in his genital and anal areas, he is not able to sustain an erection. (In fact, the ex-wife pointed out, their two eldest children, conceived after the torture, had to be fathered by artificial insemination.) The jury found Casanova not guilty of the 10 counts against him involving actual intercourse.
-- In August, Shane Hedges, a member of the staff of Montana Gov. Judy Martz, was involved in a fatal auto accident while presumptively drunk, and ultimately resigned and pled guilty to vehicular homicide. However, just after the crash, with the police still seeking evidence from the accident, Hedges went to see Gov. Martz while still wearing the clothes that were bloodied from the dead body in the front seat with him, and Gov. Martz promptly washed them. In January 2002, when the laundering became public knowledge, the local prosecutor let the governor off the hook by declaring that Hedges' clothing was not important evidence in the case. Said Martz, of her impulse to launder, "(T)he mother in me did it. A mother does that kind of stuff."
-- Frances Escalera, cited for the third time by authorities in Allentown, Pa., for excessive loudness of her TV set and thus in danger of being evicted from public housing for violating municipal regulations, charged that the city's rule on TV noise was illegal because it obviously targeted Latinos, who like to turn up the volume.
-- Police in St. Peter, Minn., arrested Olga Esquivel Ramirez, 32, in August after an automobile chase that started when an officer observed Ramirez's car veer over the center line several times. Despite sirens and emergency lights, Ramirez did not stop for about four miles, until pinned in by several cruisers. However, she said she was not trying to outrun the police; rather, she said she thought that if they wanted her to stop, all they had to do was call her on her cell phone.
-- Canada's National Parole Board is being sued for about $960,000 (U.S.) by a twice-convicted robber who has been in jail since 1993, according to court documents reported for the first time in January by the Globe and Mail newspaper. Mark Turner had been released by the board in 1987 but found himself back in prison again after another bank-robbery-related conviction, and now says the parole board should not have released him in 1987. He now says he was not ready to deal with the outside stresses, and if the parole board had forced him to serve out his sentence (until 1994), he would have been more mature and better prepared to resist the temptation to return to a life of crime.
In January, a 42-year-old Vancouver, Wash., chiropractor, upset at the deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, apparently disemboweled himself in his home. The man, a health-conscious former bodybuilder, was found by police (responding to the girlfriend's call that the man was continuing to harass her) lying on his bed, bloody, with his shirt off and a quantity of his intestines resting on his stomach. He was hospitalized, but his condition was not life-threatening.
Bryan Allison, 24, was hospitalized briefly in Buffalo, N.Y., in November after falling 20 feet to the ground while tossing a television set off a second-floor balcony at his home. According to police, Allison was watching the videotape of a 1989 National Hockey League playoff game with his brother and got angry once again that his team had lost. He picked up the TV set and attempted to toss it off the balcony but apparently failed to let go of it in time.
Returning to the TV screen on Christmas morning was the WPIX-TV (New York City) "Yule Log," a two-hour "program" consisting of a shot of a log burning in a fireplace; it garnered a 3.1 rating (10 percent of all TVs on at the time) and helped the station to its day-long ratings victory. And Andy Park, 42, of Melksham, England, is still going strong, though concerned about his health recently; 10 years ago, he decided that Christmas dinner was so tasty that he should eat it (turkey and all the trimmings) every day of the year, and he figures he has since consumed more than 5,000 helpings of turkey, 7,300 helpings of mince pie and 8,000 glasses of sherry.
The South Korean human-rights organization Sarangbang charged that the country's highly detailed public-school dress codes violate the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (December). And a Ukrainian company, New Men Travel, announced a $460 hands-on tour of Chernobyl (site of the 1986 nuclear plant accident), claiming that radiation has dissipated enough that an hour or two in protective clothing would be safe (January). And among those nominated by world leaders or previous winners for Nobel Peace Prizes this year are California death-row inmate (four murders) Tookie Williams (January).
Per Olympic rules, one member of Canada's gold-medal-winning team in Duplicate Bridge (held the week before the opening of the Salt Lake City games as a "demonstration event") was selected for a random drug test. A judge ruled that an employee who was injured in an amateur boxing match, off-site, during his lunch hour, was covered under worker compensation laws because lunch hours are for "refreshing" oneself for work (Wellington, New Zealand). A few days after closing a plant and laying off 4,500 auto workers, Ford Canada proceeded with a previously scheduled campaign to ask all its workers to wear "Ford Pride" buttons on the job. Police attempting to inform a homeowner that his mailbox had been knocked over stumbled on a $2 million (U.S.) marijuana farm in the man's basement (Vercheres, Quebec).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Newsweird@aol.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)