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News of the Weird

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Election roundup: In underreported November election returns: Notorious Florida radio shock jock Bubba "the Love Sponge" Clem lost his race for Pinellas County sheriff, and his Tampa radio competitor Dave "the Dwarf" Flood lost for a conservation-panel seat (but each got nearly 30 percent of the vote). The mayor of Arvin, Calif., Juan Olivares, was arrested the day before polls opened, charged with child molestation. (Voters ousted him.) Peter Stevenson, losing candidate for Vermont lieutenant governor, appeared at the only televised debate with a fake arrow through his head and blood on his clothes. Bruce Borders won, becoming the Indiana General Assembly's only Elvis impersonator. Losing Pennsylvania congressional candidate Arthur Farnsworth, who ran on an anti-tax platform, was arrested three days after the election for tax evasion.

Fine points of the law: In 1998, a New York jury said Kenneth H. Payne murdered a man, but the state's highest court set him free in October 2004, with no strings attached. The jury had convicted him of "depraved indifference" murder (rejecting "intentional" murder), but the Court of Appeals said the circumstances of the crime better fit the latter rather than the former. Noting that state prosecutors have often used "depraved indifference" as a crutch for juries that might be reluctant to call a murder "intentional," the court decided to send district attorneys a message by essentially giving Payne a free murder.

Scenes of the surreal: According to an October Reuters dispatch, Afghan women are being vigorously recruited for the police force even though there are still no female uniforms, and the crews being trained by the United States wear their everyday jewelry, accessories, stockings, high heels and brightly colored head scarves (but still appear to be highly motivated).

Government in action: The Chicago Sun-Times reported in November that Illinois officials had decided to spend $115,000 in federal money to distribute 2.4 million condoms to help reduce sexually transmitted diseases among the young, but also concluded that the young might need special incentives to actually use the condoms. Consequently, bureaucrats decided that 900,000 would be in colors (orange, green, red or blue) and that 300,000 others would be flavored (orange, lemon, grape, cherry), to encourage their use in oral sex. State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger objected to the distribution of what he called "French ticklers" and suggested that all condoms should be "army green, utilitarian, low-priced." (Update: Gov. Rod Blagojevich subsequently eliminated the colors/flavors option.)

People with issues: In October, prominent Albany, N.Y., pediatric neurologist Phillip Riback was sentenced to 48 years in prison after his conviction on 28 sexual-abuse counts against 12 boys, but he continued to insist that his actions were simply "misconstrued," disputing testimony not only that he touched the boys inappropriately, but that he had them spit 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: In addition to his poor performance on a field sobriety test, the chief evidence that Frank Hersha, 28, was driving drunk in Manchester, Conn., in October was that police spotted him trying to order from the drive-thru window of a local restaurant that was obviously closed. And in Watertown, Mass., a playful Kudzai Kwenda, 23, accidentally locked handcuffs on his wrist at home in October, and figured they would know how to get them off at the local police station, but shortly after arrival, he was jailed because he had apparently forgotten there was an arrest warrant out against him.

More things to worry about: A journal study by Maastricht University in the Netherlands concluded that even the air quality alongside major highways is not as dangerous as the air inside the typical church (with candles, incense and poor ventilation).

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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