Palm Beach County, Fla., created the controversial "butterfly ballot" in the 2000 presidential election that reportedly confused more than a thousand Gore-Lieberman voters such that they wound up marking their ballots for a minor-party candidate. In February 2006, local education officials told the Palm Beach Post that too many of the county's high school students apparently knew answers on the statewide comprehensive test but were incorrectly marking the answer sheets. The multiple choice questions require only one circle to be darkened on the sheet, but other questions require darkening digits of an actual numerical answer, apparently bewildering students into darkening too many or too few circles.
-- (1) Two "skinhead" teenagers were arrested in January after an altercation outside the Club Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; according to a witness, one was a regular skinhead and the other a member of the apparently more enlightened SHARP, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. (2) A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist, quoting a spokesman for the telecommunications company Lucent in January, reported that "nearly a million people" in the United States still lease their house phones for around $60 a year (about 20 years after they were no longer required to), rather than buy them for as little as $20 each.
-- Lannie Lloyd Hendrickson, 24, was arrested in Bozeman, Mont., in December on charges that he aggressively bit two infants he was baby-sitting, ages 1 and 2, over their arms, shoulders and legs, because they would not fall asleep. According to police, Hendrickson said he could not recall how many times he bit each one, but did admit that he "bit the shit out of them."
-- Visionary engineer Stefan Marti last year solved what he apparently believes is a profound social problem: how to decide whether to take a cell phone call during a conversation with associates. His Conversation Finder and "social polling" Finger Ring, according to a December item in the New York Times Magazine, require one's associates to wear special badges, which analyze speech patterns and find and synchronize themselves to one's immediate conversation. Each associate also wears a special ring, which vibrates upon sensing a cell call impulse within the group. Each associate then can rub his ring, which diverts the call to an electronic mailbox, or not, and if no one rubs, the callee, having thus avoided a catastrophic faux pas, takes the call.
-- A new "stress-relief" book by David L. Mocknick of Philadelphia, called "Who's Fred, Ha!" (described in December in New York's Newsday), prescribes a game based on the German name Frederick, which Mocknick said has curative powers. A stressed person listens out in public for words that rhyme with Fred, and hearing one (e.g., dead), he says, "Dead! Fred! Who's Fred, ha!" And that makes him feel better, says Mocknick. An accompanying CD suggests versions of the game based on double Freds or Freds with clues ("What's thermometer liquid called?" "Mercury." "Freddie Mercury (the late singer)! Who's Fred, ha!")
-- The Wichita Eagle reported in January that the BTK serial killer, Dennis Rader (now serving 10 consecutive life sentences), has been sued by a former employee, Mary Capps, for $75,000 because, while she worked for him, he used "abusive, intimidating language and physical gestures" toward her, damaging her career prospects with the Park City, Kan., government. Also named in the lawsuit was Rader's supervisor. Rader is unlikely ever to have $75,000 in assets, and besides, most people who were only verbally abused by Rader might feel lucky.
-- An exhaustive report in December on CIA operatives who staffed the so-called "rendition" program, secretly transferring suspected terrorists from U.S. custody to foreign governments, revealed sometimes-sloppy undercover work of the agents. In one rendition, in Milan, Italy, covert agents failed to remove their cell phones' batteries, thus enabling them to be electronically tracked even though the phones were off. Also, one clandestine operative left a clear trail of her whereabouts because, even though she booked herself at foreign hotels under aliases, she insisted that frequent-flier miles earned at the hotels be credited to her personal, non-secret frequent-flier account.
-- A psychotherapist and a children's theater director collaborated on a one-hour play, "Baby Drama" (about parenthood, birth and early life), that opened in January to sold-out performances in Stockholm, Sweden, despite the fact that its intended audience is infants, aged 6 to 12 months. Said director Suzanne Osten: "If you can speak to a 3-month-old baby and get laughter from them, you must be able to write an interesting play for them." Said one mother, "The babies are obviously having fun the whole time they are in the theater."
-- Life Imitates a Schoolyard Joke About the Bathtub: University of Maine geologists reported in December that dozens of methane fields off the coast of Maine were releasing large amounts of gas, disrupting the ocean floor and creating massive bubbles.
-- Life Imitates a Stephen King Movie: Gerard Glock, 39, filed a claim against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., in January to reimburse two months' wages he lost when he was too traumatized to work. He had been trimming weeds in a cemetery operated by the church when the ground collapsed, and he wound up waist-deep in his brother-in-law's grave.
New Fetishist Species: (1) Masafumi Natsukawa, 39, was arrested in Yokohama, Japan, in January for allegedly tricking more than 30 young girls to open their mouths on the pretense that he was checking for tooth decay, and when they did, he licked their tongues. (2) In January, former schoolteacher Michael Codde, 44, was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty in Santa Cruz, Calif., to felony child molestation. The case against Codde consisted mostly of testimony that he put whipped cream on teenage boys' toes and made them lick it off while he took photos (a practice the judge said that Codde engaged in for sexual arousal).
(1) In Jackson, Mo., in December, Jacob Vandeven, 27, was caught by his judge at lunch, having a drink, one hour after the judge had convicted Vandeven of DUI and sentenced him to alcohol rehab with a do-not-drink order. (2) David Mulligan, 21, released from jail in Juneau, Alaska, in December after serving a 25-day sentence, allegedly stole a car a block from the jail three minutes later (and was arrested shortly after that). (3) Justin Fish, 21, who had just been bailed out on a charge of assaulting a car dealer in Framingham, Mass., in December, was almost immediately arrested again for assault because, as he walked out of the police station, he allegedly banged the door against an officer.
People who accidentally shot themselves recently: Lawrence Maner, Savannah, Ga., December (apprehensively put his gun in his lap after picking up a hitchhiker, who turned out to be harmless, but then a car swerved in traffic, and Maner's gun fell to the floor, and as he picked it up, it fired a shot into his leg). A 39-year-old man, Ocala, Fla., December (fatally shot himself while playing "cowboy action shooting" at a gun range). A 21-year-old man, Vancouver, British Columbia (shot his finger off playing with a gun in the bathroom on New Year's Day). A 29-year-old man, Columbia City, Ind., January (shot himself in the leg when he was unable to simultaneously lug a heavy trash bag and safely keep a gun in his waistband).
(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com (or www.NewsoftheWeird.com). Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)