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News of the Weird

Mmm, chimpanzee meat and cabbage monuments

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Cultural Diversity: New York state food inspectors are having trouble keeping up with the illegal importation and sale of uninspected exotic meat for New York City's immigrant population, including bush meat and meat from endangered species, according to a December Associated Press report. Inspectors found, among other items openly displayed in New York City storefronts, armadillo and iguana meat, cow lungs, smoked rodent and an unidentified fish paste, along with crates of turtles and a tub of bullfrogs, and occasionally endangered gorilla and chimpanzee meat.

Latest Religious Messages: A 2006 Church of England report warned that disagreeable congregants, together with the pressures of the church's "feudal system" bureaucracy, were turning priests harshly negative and creating an "irritable clergy syndrome." One of the report's authors told the Times of London in December that priests are bothered by "having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness," such as aggressive and neurotic parishioners.

Fine Points of the Law: Sweden's English-language the Local reported in November that prosecutors were about to release both male suspects who acknowledge being present at a 1998 murder but who each blame the other. Prosecutors concluded that since there is no additional evidence, they could not convict either man.

Michigan Law: 1) A bill passed in November by the Michigan House of Representatives makes it a crime for a cohabiting boyfriend to pressure his pregnant girlfriend into having an abortion, including by simply moving out of the house. 2) The Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in November said an obscure but unambiguous state law makes any "sexual penetration" a serious sexual assault if it occurs during any other felony, including simple adultery, with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Elementary schoolteacher's aide Kumi Houston of Williamson County, Texas, was fired in November after she allegedly admitted to a sheriff's detective that she allowed an 11-year-old boy to reach under her bra and fondle her (which would clearly be illegal). However, as Houston's attorney later explained, her statement (which Houston did not deny making) was not necessarily a confession. What happened, said attorney Robert Phillips, is that his client "made a statement. It may be an admission, or it may be just [her] version of what happened. That's not a confession."

The Alabama Supreme Court, ruling in January, told leukemia-stricken Jack Cline that state law makes it either too early or too late for him to sue the manufacturer of benzene, to which he was exposed in his factory job, and it dismissed his lawsuit. He may have known he had been exposed to a carcinogen, but he couldn't sue until the cancer was actually diagnosed, but when it finally was, years later, the state's statute of limitations had long since run out. Several justices expressed concern about the Catch-22, but they were in the minority.

Least Competent Criminals: Lamest Defense: James Lane III, 27, was arrested in Carrboro, N.C., in January after police chased him in his car and later on foot. Officers tackled Lane about 20 feet into a wooded area and recovered a white plastic bag containing a pound of marijuana. When police pulled Lane to his feet, he said that someone must have left the bag on the ground at precisely the spot in the woods where Lane fell, because he had never seen it before.

Recurring Themes: Least Competent Lawyers: Jeffrey Leonard is on death row in Kentucky for murder and had challenged the fairness of his conviction, criticizing his court-appointed defense counsel. Lawyer Ferdinand Radolovich had represented Leonard all the way through his murder trial without bothering to learn his real name, in that for his conviction and subsequent first appeal, Radolovich thought Leonard was "James Slaughter" (and he didn't even know how to spell that name, habitually writing it "Slawter"). (Also, Radolovich had told judges that he had previously handled four death-penalty cases but in fact had done none.) Nonetheless, by a 7-7 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals could not conclude that better lawyering would have helped the clearly guilty Leonard.

Readers' Choice: 1) Neil Rodreick II, 29, shaved his body and posed as a 12-year-old boy, and then allegedly had sex with Lonnie Stiffler, 61, and Robert Snow, 43, in Chino Valley, Ariz., before all three were arrested in January (as the result of Stiffler's attempt to enroll Rodreick in a charter school as a boy). The two men were said to have been quite upset when police told them Rodreick was not 12 years old. 2) Inner Mongolian herdsman Bao Xishun, at 7 feet, 9 inches reputed to be the world's tallest man, was recruited by a commercial aquarium in Liaoning Province, China, in December to reach into the stomachs of two dolphins to extract some plastic that they had swallowed and which was making them sick. Surgical instruments had irritated the dolphins' stomachs, but Bao's 41-inch arm did the trick.

Celebrate the Vegetables: The Bosnian town of Bijeljina proposed in November to build a giant cabbage monument to honor its most important crop. "We very much appreciate this vegetable," said the director of the town's tourism office. And Briton Richard Townsend, 24, on a personal mission in December, ate 36 brussels sprouts in one minute, seeking the world record, but fell seven short. He said he had trained by eating a plate of brussels sprouts every day for six weeks.

© 2007 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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