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News of the Weird

Co-ed restrooms, junkies catch a win and more

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LEAD STORY: To settle a discrimination lawsuit by transsexual men in October, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority agreed to open all of its restrooms on the basis of individuals' "gender expression," meaning that, for example, any man dressed seriously as a woman could choose the ladies' room. And the New York City government is currently considering adopting a rule to permit people to switch genders on their birth certificates, regardless of whether they've had surgery, as long as they've lived in the new gender for two years and a physician and a mental-health counselor approve.

Can't Possibly Be True: Britain's Home Office announced in November that it had agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit by 197 heroin-addicted prisoners that it was "assault" and a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for them to have been almost immediately denied all drugs when they were arrested. For forcing the inmates to go "cold turkey," the government agreed to pay each the equivalent of about $7,000.

1) Britain's Channel 4 public television announced in July that it would soon schedule a week of documentaries on masturbation, including one by self-designated "orgasm coach" Betty Dodson; "Masturbation for Girls" teaches hands-on techniques to three women. 2) The pendulum swung the other way in October, however, when Britain's Tesco stores agreed that a kit for learning pole dancing (advertised on its website), to "[u]nleash the sex kitten inside," with a garter and suggestive DVD, was perhaps unsuited for its "toy" section, where it might have been appealing to adolescent girls. (Tesco moved the listing to its physical fitness section.)

Inexplicable: After shooting video undercover in 10 Army recruiting offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, ABC News released in November an episode of recruiters telling a prospect that no one is going to Iraq anymore. "No, we're bringing people back," he said, and his partner followed with, "We're not at war. War ended a long time ago." In a separate on-camera interview, Col. Robert Manning, who is in charge of Army recruiting in the Northeast, generously told ABC News that he disagreed with the recruiters. "We are a nation and Army at war still."

Unclear on the Concept: 1) Race-separatist cult leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh is awaiting a decision on release from parole (after serving 11 years of an 18-year sentence on racketeering charges in connection with as many as 23 gruesome murders, some involving beheadings) and is dying of cancer. His lawyer asked a federal judge in October to approve his immediate release so that his client could "die with dignity." 2) Washington, D.C., council member (and former mayor) Marion Barry was charged in September with DUI and other vehicle violations but told the Washington Post that authorities were just trying to "embarrass and discredit" him.

Election Roundup (continued): 1) An apparently poorly trained Kentucky election worker physically tossed a voter out of a polling station in Louisville on Election Day because he hadn't marked all the offices on his ballot. 2) And a voter in Allentown, Pa., was arrested after he suddenly erupted in the voting booth and began pounding the machine with a paperweight.

In elections for sheriff, Chris Abril was elected in Polk County, N.C., despite his arrest in August on years-old charges of statutory rape (which Abril said he'd straighten out as one of his first orders of business), and Rick Magnuson was soundly defeated for sheriff of Aspen, Colo., after "all of my skeletons [were] exposed," he said, in the course of the campaign. Among the skeletons was a stint in alcohol rehab; his unauthorized use of a criminal database; his onetime letters to Osama bin Laden as part of an "art project"; and (also as an art project) the video he made of himself masturbating into a hole in the ground in the Mojave Desert.

Least Competent Criminals: A prison inmate named Calvin Miller, who was angry with a former partner in crime who had escaped conviction, called police in Kansas City, Mo., in 2003 with information that led them to reopen the cold case, and eventually the partner, Johnny Chapple, was convicted of murder (along with two others). However, also convicted was a fourth participant: Calvin Miller. While Chapple received a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, Miller got 17. (By the way, Miller's well-known nickname, acquired before any of this transpired, is "Cheesy Rat.")

Updates: James C. Burda surrendered his Ohio chiropractor's license in September after an investigation (mentioned in April in News of the Weird) revealed that he offered to treat patients via telepathy (for $60 an hour) and had the ability to go back in time to realign bones and joints at the point at which they were damaged, via his techniques of telekinetic vibration, which he called "bahlaqeem vina" and "bahlaqeem jaqem," which he admitted were nonsense words that came to him one day while he was driving around. An exam ordered by Ohio chiropractic regulators found, not surprisingly, that Burda suffered from "delusional disorder, grandiose type."

The Law of Unintended Consequences: The Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported in October that the much tighter border security that resulted from the recent war with Hezbollah guerrillas had caused marijuana prices in Israel to jump as much as 800 percent.

© 2006 Chuck Shepherd

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