News of the Weird

Lead Story
*Since 1996 accused murderer and paranoid schizophrenic Eric Brown has been rendered incompetent to stand trial, but officials at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts said recently that he had made enough progress while on medication that a trial can be scheduled. In December, however, Brown demanded to be taken off medication so he could return to his psychotic state to demonstrate that he is insane (and thus, not guilty by reason of insanity). His psychiatrist is opposed, citing medical ethics prohibiting him from taking Brown off the drugs.

Unclear on the Concept
*At a September meeting of the Republican Party in Lawrence, Kansas, a conservative faction beat back a challenge from moderates and retained control of the party. At the start of the meeting, attendees realized there was no American flag to which they could offer the traditional Pledge of Allegiance. The chairman solved this dilemma by unfurling a roll of 32-cent flag stamps at the front of the room.

Well Put
*Tampa, Florida, nursing home resident John Yerger, age 93, after realizing he had been duped into paying a $5000 fee to collect his alleged one million dollars in winnings in a Canadian lottery and then cooperating with authorities in an attempt (unsuccessful) to sting the culprits: "It may have cost me $5000, but this is the most excitement I've had in a long time."

Government in Action
*Empowered by a November referendum in which 73 percent of the country voted against legalizing drugs, Swiss prosecutors announced they would file challenges to the current law on marijuana, which bans its sale only as a narcotic. Over the last three years, several hemp shops have opened, selling dried marijuana as an herbal room freshener (with names like "Juicy Fruit" and "Lemon Skunk") and labeled "not for consumption."

*A December Wall Street Journal report described the problems encounterd by auto manufacturers that must crash-test their cars using mannequins of government-dictated sizes and weight, and dressed in clothing prescribed in minute detail by regulation. Included are requirements that the dummies don black leather shoes of a precise weight and style; that "adults" wear matched sets of cotton shirts and form-fitting shorts; and that a "child" must wear "thermal knit, waffle-weave polyester and cotton underwear or the equivalent," with size 7M sneakers with "rubber toe caps, uppers of Dacron and cotton or nylon and a total mass of .453 kg." The government only recently dropped its requirement that all adult clothes be "tea rose" color and that all shoes be gray suede.

*A December New York Times report claims residents of unincorporated Brooksville, Alabama, are gathering signatures to petition the state to create an official town based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, in an attempt to unite church and state, which are constitutionally separated. Sinners would be welcome but expected to observe public behavior codes and might have to attend church services to have their votes counted because many of the town's decisions would be made there. At the other end of the spectrum, in November, El Paso (Texas) County officials got a court order decertifying the town of Buford, calling it a sham set up solely to protect its only "residents": a dozen adult bookstores and strip clubs that have, in the 36 years of the town's existence, been exempt from county regulation.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd