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News of the Weird

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Producers of Jerry Springer--The Opera announced in February that they were still planning to bring the London stage hit to the U.S. in early 2006 despite increasingly vituperative protests by religious groups, which have condemned it as "filth and blasphemy." The show's libretto contains hundreds of profanities, many of them coming in act three, which depicts Springer in hell mediating a heated confrontation between Satan, God, Jesus, Mary, Adam, and Eve; Jesus, who at one point sings, "Actually, I'm a bit gay," is portrayed (with only a minimal costume change) by a pudgy actor who also plays a diaper-clad coprophiliac in act one. When the BBC televised the show in January, it received 50,000 complaints (the great majority before the broadcast), including physical threats to executives, and one Christian group pressured a cancer charity into turning down money from a special fund-raising performance.

Least Competent Law Enforcement

Police officer Troy Brungs, 35, of Circleville, Ohio, was reassigned to a desk job in January pending a hearing on a DUI charge; in the previous five years Brungs had received three suspensions and seven written reprimands and crashed his patrol car three times. And two convicted killers nearly managed to escape from death row at a prison in Mansfield, Ohio, in February, even though an official was tipped off about the plan twice in the two weeks before the attempt and told the prison's security chief both times. The convicts' cells--where they were hiding a homemade fence-breaking tool and provisions they'd hoarded--were never searched following the tips; instead, one convict was promoted to a job giving him greater freedom to move around the death row unit.

Cutting-Edge Law Enforcement

Jaywalking is a serious problem in downtown Manila, where pedestrians routinely take up entire lanes of traffic and dart among cars in hopes of flagging down a ride. In January a city official announced a campaign in which municipal vehicles rigged with blanket-size pieces of wet fabric would drive through the streets to soak anyone who ventured off the sidewalk. Other officials quickly denounced the plan and threatened to arrest any city employees who participated.

Finer Points of the Law

In Fort Worth in January Jimmy Dean Watkins pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the 1998 shooting of his estranged wife's boyfriend and was sentenced to 15 years. Watkins had been convicted in 1999 of successfully murdering his wife in the same incident; since the jury found he'd acted in "sudden passion" (and recommended he receive only ten years' probation), his prison sentence for that crime was four months.

Commuter-train conductor Patrick Phillips, 52, won $8.5 million in a February settlement with BNSF Railway relating to injuries resulting from a 2002 train crash in Placentia, California. Phillips contended that while he'd previously been a "controlled" alcoholic (who'd spent some time in rehab), the concussion he suffered caused him to lose control and drink himself into dementia.

People With Issues

In February University of Michigan football player Larry Harrison Jr., 20, was ordered to stand trial on four felony charges for allegedly masturbating on women's porches; Ann Arbor police said he was a suspect in 12 similar cases going back to August. And Charles Henry, also 20, was charged in February with four counts of first-degree indecent exposure for an incident in the parking lot at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Alaska: he allegedly drove up next to a group of students, began to masturbate, drove away, circled the lot, then did it again. According to police, Henry claimed to be under a lot of stress and said he thought it was the students' responsibility to look away.

Least Competent Criminals

Ronald Webb, 22, was arrested for fraud in Paris, Tennessee, in December after presenting a pharmacist with a legitimate prescription to which had been added the narcotic hydrocodone in a different color ink. Also in December Vincent Festa, 44, was arrested at a Radio Shack in Oyster Bay, New York, after he attempted to return $2,200 in electronics for refund; according to police employees recognized him from when he'd stolen the merchandise from the same store the week before.

Latest Religious Messages

In January millions of Muslim pilgrims in Mina, Saudi Arabia, began this year's Feast of Sacrifice with the ritual of "stoning the devil," in which they throw pebbles at tall stone pillars. Hoping to avoid the extreme congestion that has in the past led to fatal stampedes (almost 250 were killed last year), Saudi officials improved access to the stoning area and built larger pillars, meaning pebble throwers could stand farther away. In the same week about 300 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a stampede when a fire broke out near a temple in Maharashtra State, India. One report attributed the fire to a short circuit at a roadside stall, but some witnesses said it was started by worshippers who grew frustrated with the slow pace of the procession.

Roundup

According to a February Associated Press report, the coroner's office of Thurston County, Washington, received a $50,000 Homeland Security grant to buy a custom shrink-wrapping machine large enough to wrap bodies in case of natural disaster or terrorist attack. Police in Fontana, California, said Michael Spearman, 31, caused his girlfriend to crash her SUV in January when he angrily grabbed the steering wheel because she wouldn't turn around and go home so he could retrieve his Bible. And in February Chicago police arrested two boys, ages 16 and 17, after they allegedly gave a 12-year-old boy a series of wedgies that caused him to require medical attention.

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

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