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News of the Weird
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A 5-year-old boy in Broward County, Fla., preparing to enter kindergarten, is believed by gender-identity experts to be the youngest kid in the country whose family supports his decision to live completely as the other sex (according to a May profile in New Times Broward-Palm Beach). The parents doubt that the unnamed now-girl (dubbed “Nicole Anderson” in the article) is “just going through a phase,” because of “her” early, constant, and insistent female preferences and comments, e.g., “I want the fairy princess to come and make my penis into a vagina.”


Government in Action

In May, Nevada officials said they were hopeful of persuading the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow the family of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan, and who is buried in a federal cemetery, to have a Wiccan symbol on his headstone. The department has approved headstone symbols for more than 30 religions, as well as one for atheists, but so far not for Wicca.

Much Ado About Little: (1) The student lockers at Kealing Middle School in Austin, Texas, haven’t been used in 10 years (for disciplinary reasons) and probably won’t be again, but they will still be “refurbished” (and some new ones added) at a $60,000 expense to taxpayers, according to school renovation plans in a recently passed local budget. (2) Included in a local task force’s proposal this year for building a $381 million riverfront arena in Louisville, Ky., was $63 million to move a Louisville Gas and Electric substation about 30 yards, across the street from its present location.

In May, independent arson experts reported that the 2004 Texas execution of Tyrone Willingham was based on evidence that has now been scientifically disproved (and which had probably been repudiated earlier in 2004, when another Texas arson convict had had his death sentence overturned). According to a Chicago Tribune story, the fire marshals whose testimony cinched Willingham’s sentence relied on out-of-date, discredited tests, leaving no reliable evidence for the jury that the fire that killed Willingham’s three kids was deliberately set. According to the report (commissioned by the Innocence Project), no formal training (only training “on the job”) is required of Texas fire marshals.


Bright Ideas

New Scientist magazine reported in May that the Pentagon’s cutting-edge research agency, DARPA, was considering a human-launching device that works like a cannon, to blast special-forces troops (and maybe firefighters and police officers) at just the right trajectory so that they land on hard-to-reach locations, such as rooftops.

  -- Last year, in order to soften the transition from an agrarian economy, the rural village of Renhe, China, offered to give farmers apartments in town -- one-bedroom flats for single people and two-bedroom units for married couples. But in a fit of greed, hundreds of couples promptly divorced for no other reason than to qualify for two apartments so that they could rent one out. When officials learned of the scams, they modified the rules, according to a May dispatch in the Los Angeles Times, and turmoil resulted, as newly divorced couples failed to reconcile, leaving children in broken homes while husbands ran off with younger women.


The Continuing Campaign to Make Everything Perfect

(1) The principal of Liberty Elementary School in Colleyville, Texas, authorized an enlarged photo of a nickel on this year’s yearbook cover, but with “In God We Trust” deleted so as not to cause offense -- but then handed out stickers with those four words so that students could place them on the cover photo if they wished. (2) A British government agency recently decided to spend the equivalent of $33 million over 10 years to encourage women and minorities to become fishermen (or fisherwomen) because too many anglers are white, male and middle-aged; a Welsh pilot project, for example, teaches Muslim women and children to fish for trout.


Fetishes on Parade

Ernest G. Johnson, 42, was arrested in Shreveport, La., in May after he, posing as an insurance company employee, roamed the corridors at LSU Hospital seeking to photograph women wearing casts. Said a police detective, “It’s like all he wants is to be in the presence of a woman with a cast on and have her attention.” And in April in Wausau, Wis., Thomas Vogedes, 58, was sentenced to six months’ probation for incidents in which he hung dozens of bras and panties (new and used) from car mirrors and videotaped them.


Least Competent Criminals

No “Oversies”: Sarah Zabolotny, 29, who was in the courthouse in Buckhannon, W.Va., in March to deal with a speeding ticket, was later charged with petty larceny after she was seen on surveillance video folding up an 8-foot rug in the building and walking out the door. When a court clerk tracked her down, Zabolotny asked if she could just give it back and forget the whole thing, but the clerk said no. And in Williston, N.D., in March, Ryan Wright, 20, was arrested for bank robbery, even though he insisted that all he did was walk in to the bank wearing a ski mask and demand money, before saying, “Just kidding” and leaving.


Recurring Themes

 Less than three months after one wife-as-sex-slave contract surfaced (in Iowa, for which husband Travis Frey in June was sentenced to 10 years in prison), Hudson, Wis., husband Kevin Anderson was accused of making his own sex-slave contract with his estranged wife, Kimberly O’Brien, which O’Brien filed as evidence in March in her pending divorce. The contract required O’Brien to call Anderson “Master Jon,” to achieve orgasm “ONLY” (emphasis in the original) by permission, and to allow her orgasms to be “controlled for proper training (and) teaching ... good habits (and) providing motivation (and) physical or sexual energy.”

Playing Hardball: The newspaper Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv) reported in March that the Moqassed Hospital in East Jerusalem was under investigation for detaining a newborn baby for two months because its parents did not pay the bill. (The mother had given birth to premature triplets; the hospital allegedly let her take two home but kept the third.) And London’s Daily Telegraph reported in April the hard luck story of unemployed Darren Wheeler, 30, who had six of his teeth extracted at the Birkdale Clinic in Whiston, England, but before dentures could be fitted, the clinic converted from public health to private practice and said dentures would now cost Wheeler the equivalent of almost $5,000.


The Continuing Crisis

In April, Elgin, Ill., police said they gave confidential informant Robert Bridges, 29, $300 to buy 7 grams of cocaine and sent him into a drug house for a sting, but later they got tired of waiting for him to leave, and they stormed the house. Inside, they found Bridges, intoxicated, with no money and only 2.8 grams of cocaine left. č