News of the Weird

* Entrepreneurs in Wisconsin and South Korea have recently introduced products to encourage cremation as an alternative to burial (in Korea mainly because land for burial is scarce): Two Wisconsin women sell pendants and blown-glass sculptures to display ashes in a more attractive setting than in urns. A South Korean man stumbled upon a way to treat ashes at extremely high temperatures so they can be molded directly into beads to be worn or kept in decorative jars.

* Calgary, Alberta, construction worker Michael Pearse, 22, an admitted hothead, pleaded guilty to making threats in 1996 while trying to find a friend's ex-girlfriend, but at his sentencing hearing in November 1998 said he is now a gentle man and had the report of a government neuropsychologist as evidence. The cause of his change: In February 1998, Pearse was hit in the head and knocked out by a crowbar that bounced off a wall after he swung it, and when he came to, he had an amnesia that had turned him into what the doctor said is a "considerate, caring, benign guy" with no aggression at all. The judge postponed sentencing so he could think things over.

* In November, after French surgeons transplanted an arm and a hand on a man, prominent Italian plastic surgeon Nicolo Scuderi announced that he was ready to perform the world's first penis transplant and in fact had three potential patients. Scuderi said the operation would be less complicated than a reattachment, although he was not sure all penile functions would be effective. He said his initial operations would be on transsexual women seeking to become men and not merely on men who seek larger genitals. And the next day, China's Xinhua news agency reported that army surgeons had constructed a new penis, out of abdominal tissue, for a 6-year-old boy who had had an accident.

* Diane Ellis, Clearwater, Fla., candidate for a state House seat, got 27 percent of the vote despite her persistent, inexplicable claims that her opponent, the son of locally well-known U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, was an impostor from out of state, hired to impersonate the younger Bilirakis.

* As in every election, several candidates who died during the campaign remained on the ballot, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, who took eventual winner Lee Baca down to the wire even though he died four days before the election. In the Yakima, Wash., race for county coroner, incumbent Leonard Birkinbine was re-elected, although he died two days before; he was running unopposed because his only challenger, John Reynolds, had died on Sept. 14, the day before the primary (which he won).

* In an upset proportional to Jesse (The Body) Ventura's becoming governor of Minnesota, a challenger to the Mendocino County, Calif., district attorney won, despite the incumbent's stature as president of the state association of district attorneys. The new DA is ex-con Norman Vroman, who served time for tax evasion and still owes $1.3 million in back taxes but is very popular because he favors decriminalization of marijuana. (Vroman says he will prosecute anyone the sheriff arrests, but the newly elected sheriff favors decriminalization of marijuana, also.)

* A ballot question in the District of Columbia, allowing the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical purposes, was voted on, and the yes's and no's were counted by computer, but so far the outcome is not known. After the ballots were printed, but before election day, a federal law authored by U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) passed, forbidding D.C. from spending any money on the medical-marijuana initiative, which includes the money required to type up the computer-generated results and release them to the public.

* The Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arkansas, surgeon Fay Boozman, said during the campaign that a "rape exception" for abortion is not necessary because the stress of rape produces hormonal changes in the woman that prevent conception. He did not produce research but said his statement was based on general knowledge in the medical community.

* In an effort to upgrade her long-shot campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Republican Crystal Young, 57 (who beat eight challengers in the primary), said late in the campaign that the reason she qualifies for Social Security disability payments is the pain she experiences from once having had electromagnetic needles implanted in her body by actress Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine denied ever meeting Young.

* In an era when Hollywood stars support causes such as Farm Aid, human-rights campaigns and ending child labor, actor Wilford Brimley became the celebrity spokesperson this fall opposing Arizona's Proposition 201, which sought to ban cockfighting (and which ultimately passed). Brimley lives in Utah, but he drove regularly across the border to attend cockfights. "They're magnificent," he said of the roosters. "It's always thrilling to watch."

* As reported earlier in "News of the Weird," Tennessee state Senate challenger Byron (Low-Tax) Looper was charged with shooting to death the incumbent, Tommy Burks, 14 days before the election. The deceased Burks was one of eight Tennessee state senators to receive the highest-rated endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Burks' widow won the race, and Looper, in jail, still received 571 votes.

* Voters in Newport, Maine, voted almost 3-1 against a proposed ordinance that would make female public toplessness illegal. The issue had been forced by the propensity of Desiree Davis, 34, to mow her mother's lawn without a shirt, which provoked complaints despite the fact that current law only forbids exposing the genitals and buttocks.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].

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