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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in November that of the 2.4 million condoms purchased this year for free distribution by the Illinois Department of Public Health, 360,000 were orange, grape, lemon, or cherry flavored; officials believed this would help reduce the spread of disease via oral sex. Another 910,000 were brightly colored. Upon learning of this, Republican state senator Steve Rauschenberger objected, saying that giving these away was tantamount to "enticement" and suggesting the state should provide only "army green, utilitarian, low-priced condoms." Governor Rod Blagojevich subsequently halted the distribution of both flavored and colored condoms.

Election Roundup

Some underreported November results: Former Florida shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem (his legal name) lost a bid to become Pinellas County sheriff, while Tampa radio personality Dave "the Dwarf" Flood wasn't elected to a conservation-panel seat (though each got between 25 and 30 percent of the vote). Juan Olivares, up for reelection as mayor of Arvin, California, was arrested on child molestation charges the day before polling. (He lost.) And unsuccessful Pennsylvania congressional candidate Arthur Farnsworth, who ran on an antitax platform, was arrested three days after the election for tax evasion.

Fine Points of the Law

In 1998 a jury in Suffolk County, New York, said Kenneth Payne murdered a man, but the state court of appeals set him free this October with no strings attached. Rejecting a charge of intentional murder, the jury had convicted Payne (who claimed he was protecting his family when he shot a neighbor at point-blank range) of depraved-indifference murder--a charge designed to cover lethal conduct without intent to kill a specific victim (like firing into a crowd) but often used by New York prosecutors in hopes of getting murder convictions from juries that might otherwise only go for manslaughter. Payne argued on appeal that since he had clearly meant to kill the man he shot, prosecutors erred in bringing the depraved-indifference charge.

Government in Action

Ryan Unger, 18, of Peshastin, Washington, was charged in September with two misdemeanors, each carrying a $500 fine, for riding an improperly equipped dirt bike that allegedly started an August wildfire. The following month the U.S. Forest Service, adhering to its policy of attempting to recover firefighting costs, announced it would be sending Unger an invoice for $10 million.

Public Servant: William Lupini left his $130,000-a-year job as school superintendent of Beverly, Massachusetts, in May to take a $148,000-a-year job as school superintendent of Brookline. The Beverly Citizen reported in September that since Brookline's school year doesn't start until July, Lupini applied for and received $2,332 in unemployment compensation for the month of June.

In November the Federation of American Scientists revealed that the U.S. Air Force had paid $25,000 for a study on psychic teleportation prepared by Nevada physicist Eric Davis, who wrote that the power to move oneself from place to place using only the mind is "quite real and can be controlled." An Air Force Research Lab spokesman defended sponsoring the study, telling USA Today, "If we don't turn over stones, we don't know if we have missed something."

According to a September report by the St. Petersburg Times three of the five members of the National Transportation Safety Board are unhappy with their chairman, Bush appointee Ellen Engleman Conners, whom they say is overly controlling. They've complained that in addition to interfering with their hiring of staff, restricting their travel, and blocking their contact with the media, Conners has called them in advance of meetings to make sure they wouldn't be wearing outfits that might clash with her own.

People With Issues

In October pediatric neurologist Phillip Riback of Albany, New York, was sentenced to 48 years in prison after conviction on 28 counts of sexual abuse against 12 boys, but he continued to insist that his actions were simply "misconstrued," disputing testimony that he touched the boys inappropriately and had them spit (or pretend to) on his face and into his mouth. Riback's lawyer said his client suffers from a disorder that makes socializing difficult: "He has a pattern of quirky, entertaining behavior as a way of relating that simply goes too far."

Least Competent Criminals

Frank Hersha, 28, was arrested in Manchester, Connecticut, in October for allegedly stealing his landlord's car and driving drunk. He was pulled over after police watched him try repeatedly to order from the drive-through window of a McDonald's that was obviously closed. Also in October 23-year-old Kudzai Kwenda accidentally handcuffed himself at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, and called police for help, apparently forgetting there was an outstanding warrant against him for failure to appear at a hearing. The responding officers left the cuffs on and took him to the station.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird recently reported on Internet technology that would permit a form of sexual penetration between remote users. Last month hunting entrepreneur John Underwood announced that his remote-controlled rifle-and-video-camera setup would soon allow computer users to aim and fire at deer, antelope, and wild pigs on Underwood's 330-acre ranch in southwest Texas. He said employees would retrieve killed animals and arrange for taxidermy and meat processing, and suggested the service might be especially valuable to disabled hunters. State wildlife officials say current law doesn't cover Internet hunting, but opposition is mounting and regulators may step in.

Readers' Choice

Karen Stolzmann, 44, was arrested in October in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and charged with possession of stolen property--specifically, the ashes of her long-dead boyfriend, Michael Hendrickson, which police say she dug up more than ten years ago. The couple had a stormy relationship and the family blamed Stolzmann for Hendrickson's suicide, according to authorities, who speculate that Stolzmann also drank the beer the family had buried as tribute.

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

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