-- The Palo Alto, Calif., City Council scheduled for a final vote in May a proposed code of conduct that includes (in order to coax civility among members) an official admonition to avoid even nonverbal forms of disagreement with each other, such as rolling one's eyes or shaking one's head or frowning. One former resident told the San Jose Mercury News that the proposal is a prime example of the "Palo Alto mind-set."
-- At the height of the war in Iraq, Army chaplain Lt. Josh Llano, 32, a Southern Baptist, commandeered 500 gallons of water to fill his baptismal pool at Camp Bushmaster near Najaf and offered exhausted, grimy soldiers a chance for a refreshing dip, provided they agreed to formal baptisms following a 90-minute sermon. Llano told a Miami Herald reporter: "It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized." (The Army's chief of chaplains said he would investigate.)
(1) "Indian Testicle Attack 'Is Murder'" (a January BBC News report of the Supreme Court of India ruling that a fatal kick to the testicles in an assault should not be regarded as mere manslaughter). (2) "Doctor's 32 Percent Error Rate 'Not Unusual,' Says Inquiry" (a February London Independent story interviewing medical experts who defended an accused physician by pointing out that epilepsy diagnoses are easy to get wrong). (3) "Mayor Denies Claims She Masturbated Businessmen" (a February Brisbane, Australia, Courier-Mail story on the mayor of Maroochy, Queensland, who was a masseuse before being elected to office and who some people suspect had "known" some of the town's influential businessmen).
Wilma Bennett, 79, carrying a .22-caliber revolver and increasingly agitated at having to wait in line at a grocery store, was arrested after brawling with a 31-year-old security guard who tried to calm her down (Akron, Ohio, January). Gertrude Raines, 84, was charged with shooting her son-in-law dead at 200 yards in the midst of a longstanding family feud (Murfreesboro, Ark., January). Deer hunter Clinton Hurlbut, 89, pleaded guilty to reckless use of a gun after accidentally shooting the horse that a 12-year-old girl was riding (Browns Valley, Minn., November). On the bright side, J.C. Adams, 74, owner of a Pac A Sac convenience store that was being robbed, propped himself up on his walker and fired his shotgun at the three perps, killing one, wounding another and causing the third to flee (Decatur, Ga., January).
-- Widow Maggie Smith and her two adult children won $1.2 million late in 2002 (reduced from an August jury award of $3.5 million) in their wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Franklin Price, having convinced a jury that Price did not do enough to help the late Lawrence Smith avoid his fatal heart attack. Mr. Smith, of University Heights, Ohio, was 54, overweight, a long-time smoker who ate a poor diet, got little exercise, had diabetes and high cholesterol, and admitted to being stressed at work; Dr. Price said he gave Smith repeated admonitions about his bad habits, but apparently not enough of them.
-- In Riverhead, N.Y., in December, Oscar Novick, 69, filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against the New York Dinner Theater of Manhasset for injuries he suffered when a dancer from the show (being performed on location at an Office Depot employee holiday party) slipped and fell on top of him during an audience-participation number. The bigger-than-he-is dancer had convinced Novick to step out onto the floor, where she twirled him around to a fast number, "bounced (my head) back and forth into her breasts," and "lowered me down into a dip," but then lost control, with both falling to the floor (Novick with a fractured ankle).
-- Expensive Boo-Boos: Ann Laerzio filed a lawsuit against the Octavia Hair Design in Clinton Township, Mich., in February, claiming a shop technician nicked her finger with cuticle scissors (allegedly causing the loss of a nail) and asking for $500,000. And in March, Ms. Robin Laybutt won her lawsuit against her former employer, the Australian doughnut maker Balfours, because of a cut on her finger (which she now says makes her unable to use her arm for any gainful employment) caused by the alleged malfunction of a doughnut machine; she was awarded about US$240,000.
-- In a January ruling on the federal Tariff Code, the U.S. Court of International Trade declared the Marvel Comics X-Men characters to be "nonhuman creatures," thus enraging the characters' fans, who know perfectly well that the X-Men are humans. However, it was a Marvel Comics affiliate that called them nonhuman to begin with; the company was importing X-Men figurines, and at the time that the dispute with U.S. Customs arose, imports of "human" re-creations (called "dolls") were taxed at 12 percent while imports of nonhuman re-creations (called "toys") were taxed at 6.8 percent.
-- In March, a jury failed to convict Dr. Raul Ixtlahuac, 41, of sexually assaulting patients at his practice in Gilroy, Calif. (acquittal on one count, a hung jury on the other five). Ixtlahuac's lawyer believes the key evidence for his client was testimony by another doctor, who had measured Ixtlahuac's erect penis at 5 1/2 inches, which the lawyer argued made it impossible, due to the doctor's height and that of the examining table, for him to have committed the assaults in the manner that the victims described (unless, said the lawyer, he was an "acrobat").
In Lufkin, Texas, in January, Cody Carver, 19, was sentenced to eight years in prison for impregnating a 13-year-old girl but continued to insist that he and the girl could raise their child "if the world would only back off." The girl's mother knew the pair were sleeping together, according to a Child Protective Services report, but since she herself had had a baby at age 14, and her mother had had a baby at 14, and her grandmother had had a baby at 14, she thought there was nothing unusual. In a polygraph test, Carver admitted that his sexual partners had included two other underage girls, as well as a dog.
In Hamlin, W.Va., in January, a 19-year-old driver survived having her car hit by trains on two separate tracks (being knocked off one track onto another and then hit while on that track). She was in that predicament only because she had followed safe-driver guidelines by pulling off the road to make a cell-phone call, but the place she pulled off onto was a railroad track.
At a recent oral argument at the Missouri Supreme Court (reported in The New York Times in February), in response to a hypothetical question as to whether a death row inmate who had a thoroughly proper trial should nonetheless be executed even if there were new (but inadmissible) evidence of his innocence, the state's assistant attorney general answered, "That's correct, your honor." And an Associated Press report on convicted Nebraska murderer Carolyn Joy is the latest case to frame the debate over who deserves organ transplants; Joy was conditionally approved in February to join the 117,300 people nationwide waiting for a liver, raising again the possibility that a more socially productive or well-behaved person will not get one in time if Joy is medically judged more needy.
In Penn Hills, Pa., in March, a 42-year-old man was attempting to tighten screws on his granddaughter's crib using a knife, despite his wife's admonition that he use the more appropriate Allen wrench. The next thing his wife knew, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he was running to her, bleeding at the throat and screaming, "Call the paramedics! I fell on the knife!" The man died of his wound at a hospital shortly afterward. The wife (who had assembled the crib and asked her husband only to tighten the screws) later said she could not even imagine how he could have fallen on the knife.
Hong Kong Tourism Board ads (promising that the city would "Take Your Breath Away") debuted in several British magazines just as the SARS epidemic broke. And the Utah Supreme Court upheld the right of an atheist to pray aloud at a city council meeting (prayer of choice: to be delivered from "weak and stupid politicians"), since the council always opens with a public prayer (Murray, Utah). And four city council members in Mount Sterling, Iowa, proposed an ordinance to forbid its townspeople to tell lies.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)