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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

In January, the Italian city of Recanati (population 20,000) enacted animal-rights regulations that are among the world's toughest, including requiring humans to respect domestic animals' need to socialize with their own breed and their "legitimate sexual needs." Also, pets' living quarters must be at least 9.6 square yards, lighted, ventilated, and kept at a comfortable temperature.

In the December issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, an authority on in vitro fertilization predicted that sexual intercourse will be almost completely replaced as a means of procreation by genetic-manipulation technology. Another author in the issue noted that such technology could eventually render males unnecessary for reproduction and cited research showing that Y chromosomes may have a "limited evolutionary lifetime," suggesting that alternative reproduction methods such as cloning might be necessary to assure the continued existence of males.

The Glowing Protein

Because jellyfish genes contain a phosphorescent protein, scientists have used them frequently in genetic modification. In June, scientists at Scottish Agricultural College introduced the gene into a potato, causing the spud to glow when it needs water. Scientists at England's Hertfordshire University have proposed splicing the genes into a Douglas fir to create Christmas trees with glowing needles. Firefly genes, which were also proposed for the Douglas fir project, are now being spliced into zebra fish at the University of Cincinnati to produce fish that light up when they detect certain water pollutants.

Creme de la Weird

A collection of guns owned by legally blind Philadelphia psychiatrist John Ingui was confiscated by police in August after Ingui's landlord discovered the arsenal on a visit to collect overdue rent. Federal officials subsequently learned that Ingui's 60 assault rifles, 150 semiautomatic pistols, and 50,000 rounds of ammunition were properly registered and returned them to him.

Connersville, Indiana (population 15,500; tooth decay rate 20 percent higher than the state average), is by far the largest town in the state without fluoridated water, but the new city council elected in November is expected to change that. Until now, antifluoride activists had scared the town with claims that fluoride was really disguised toxic wastes that the federal government needed to discard.

Despite a criminal record (rape), his failure to pay income tax, and his bizarre testimony at his December deportation hearing, Canadian authorities ruled that former world heavyweight boxing champion Trevor Berbick can remain in that country for at least five more years. At the hearing, Berbick insisted that his criminal record was the result of a conspiracy masterminded by boxer Larry Holmes and that he lost his title to Mike Tyson only because someone pumped gas into his hotel room before the fight. At one point in the hearing, Berbick yelled out, "Power nap!" and abruptly fell asleep for a few minutes at the table.

Government in Action

In November, U.S. Customs finally decided to let in 20 tons of birdseed from Canada after having detained it in Detroit since August because records indicated it had been processed from industrial hemp, a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant from which marijuana is derived. According to an October New York Times report, the industrial hemp had 1/2,800 the potency of even the weakest marijuana.

In November, following legislation pushed through by the Labour Party, 663 inherited seats of the 755 members of Britain's House of Lords were eliminated, with the remaining 92 seats open to election among the members. Each candidate's "campaign" was limited to a 75-word written statement. Among the platforms: Viscount Monckton of Brenchley proposed muzzling cats outdoors and opposing fishing with rods, and Lord Colwyn highlighted his experience as chairman of the refreshment subcommittee.

According to a paper leaked to reporters in September, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was fully prepared for the Second Coming of Christ on New Year's Day. City manager Mike Richardson, a fundamentalist Christian, wrote that the city's swimming pools could be used for mass baptisms, the newly refurbished Jade Stadium was available for saints' meetings, and the recently completed downtown Cathedral Square symbolized a defeat of Satan, who was supposedly responsible for delaying construction.

The Boston Globe reported in November that a woman recently evicted from public housing for assaulting a neighbor was put up for three nights free of charge at a four-star Boston hotel at $285 a night and then at a Holiday Inn for two more nights at $175 each. According to the Boston Housing Authority, local conventions had filled up every other hotel in the city.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

In December, Leonard Oak, 51, was convicted of aggravated assault in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, for shooting Richard Lavoie in the shoulder. According to an eyewitness, Oak and Lavoie were playing chicken with their rifles at Lavoie's home by firing rounds as close to each other as they could. After Lavoie missed Oak's head by about six inches, Oak shot out a clock. An infuriated Lavoie threatened Oak, who then shot Lavoie to show that he was not intimidated.

Recurring Themes

The classic middle name, all new. Suspected of murder: Michael Wayne McGray in Montreal in October. Charged with murder: Thomas Wayne Akers in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in February 1999, and John Wayne Moore Jr. in Park Hills, Missouri, in December. Indicted for murder: Richard Wayne Spicknall in Talbot County, Maryland, in October. Convicted of murder: Michael Wayne Summers in Benton, Missouri, in August, and Brandon Wayne Hedrick in Appomattox Country, Virginia, in February of last year. Execution stayed: murderer Michael Wayne Williams in Jarratt, Virginia, in October. Escaped and still at large: murderer Darryl Wayne Claughton of Calgary, Alberta, in November. Escape attempt foiled: murderer Ronald Wayne Clark Jr. in Starke, Florida, in December.

Least Justifiable Homicides

Music kills: Dario Bongo, 36, admitted in September that he killed Carlos San Miguel in Carlton, Minnesota, by stabbing him 80 times because San Miguel didn't appreciate the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

And Robert Chaulk, 30, admitted in December that he stabbed to death a Bosnian refugee couple he was visiting in Winnipeg because they wouldn't let him put on a Joe Cocker album.

In the Last Month

In Toledo, Ohio, a 36-year-old man baby-sitting girls ages six and seven was charged with tumbling them in a dryer as punishment. In Durham, North Carolina, an embezzler asked a judge to give him back some of the money he had paid in restitution because he was having trouble finding work. A prison inmate in Concord, New Hampshire, saying that he feared the New Year, sewed his eyes and lips shut with dental floss. An inebriated 52-year-old man in Copenhagen playing with toy boats in his bathtub phoned a rescue agency several times claiming his ship was going down in the Baltic Sea. A 38-year-old man in Tampa stole a Mack truck and went on a downtown car-smashing spree, blaming his behavior on the satellite-activated microchip the government had implanted in his stomach.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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