News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


-- Synergy!: In October, the pharmaceutical division of Japan Tobacco, the world's third-largest cigarette company, bought the rights to lung-cancer vaccines now under development by the U.S. firms Cell Genesys and Corixa. Now under one roof are the cause, treatment and potential prevention of lung cancer.

-- Officials in Suwon, South Korea, showing off their 580 plush public restrooms to reporters in November, hinted that the toilets were one sure way toward greater world respect. "In this era of globalization," said a government cultural official, "it is important to become the leader in the world in the cleanest bathrooms." Toilet seats are heated, violin music plays, and tasteful paintings and flower arrangements adorn the rooms. There are weekly guided tours, and according to the official, some people arrange to meet inside to have tea.

Kinder, Gentler Judiciary

Cuckold Jimmy Watkins, 34, got only four months in jail for killing his wife, whom he caught in the act with her lover; the jury accepted his defense of "sudden passion" even though he fired one shot, then went out for a few minutes before returning to finish her off (Fort Worth, Texas, October). Michael Nikkanen got only probation for rape, in part so he could keep attending his son's hockey games (Ontario Court of Appeal, October). Karine Gaelle Epailly, 25, got a suspended sentence in the death of her infant daughter, whom she abandoned outside in near-freezing rain (Alexandria, Va., October).

The Continuing Crisis

-- In July, Athens, Greece, dentist Theodoros Vassiliadis was sentenced to four years in prison based on the testimony of seven former patients. Though Vassiliadis termed his techniques "pioneering," the patients described odd-looking dental plates that were inserted with screws that were more than an inch long (allegedly taken from Vassiliadis' television set) and that pierced their sinus cavities.

-- After a $20 million school cutback in Ontario earlier in the year that limited funding for special education, three parents of disabled children wrote Premier Mike Harris offering to donate their kidneys to raise enough money to restore the budget.

-- Bill Webb won the annual Rio Vista (Calif.) Bass Derby in October, and his 33-pound catch was so convincing that derby sponsors declined to call private investigator Charley Johnson, who was on standby to administer lie detector tests in suspicious cases. (Increasingly, fishing contest organizers use at least the threat of the polygraph.)

-- In September, Sheriff Charlie Logan (Pickett County, Tenn.) resigned, telling the public that he needed to fight the charges that he had been having sex with a 15-year-old girl. However, according to some observers, that was a distraction for another charge: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was inquiring into whether Logan cheated on his GED (high school equivalency test). (Tennessee sheriffs must be high school graduates.)

-- The Loneliest Number: Randy Phillips graduated from Riverside Christian School in Andalusia, Iowa, in May, the only member of his class. (For his senior trip, he invited two juniors along.) And an Associated Press report in August on Granby, Vt. (population 90), noted that the town had only one reported crime the previous year: Someone wrote a farmer a $300 check for six piglets, but it bounced, and no one can find the man. (The same farmer said that earlier in 1999, a woman paid cash for more piglets but shorted him, and that that might be the only crime this year, but it won't be counted because he didn't report it.)

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

-- Celebrity mother Jacqueline Stallone, previously known as a mere astrologer, recently began specializing in "rumpology," the study of a person's character and future, based on the contour of his or her butt. Stallone does not conduct hands-on examinations, but rather gets subjects to sit on sheets of inked paper and make impressions ("maps"). The left cheek supposedly indicates natural talents and personality; the right cheek shows reality vs. potential.

-- Medium Suzane Northrop announced that she will lead a week-long, contact-the-dead cruise out of Miami in March, "NowAge 2000," with guests getting free channeling, plus seminars and workshops on psychic powers. Asked about whether the channeling guests will bother the recreational cruisers on board, organizer Cindy Clifford said: "Tough luck. There are people who go on cruises and wind up with the entire Iowa state bowling league."

The Hardy Blind

Bruce Edward Hall, 48 and blind, was arrested in December and charged with robbing a First Tennessee Bank in Memphis. Hall had pretended to be a customer and was escorted to a teller's window by a guard as a courtesy before presenting the teller with the holdup note. And Leon Grigsby Martin, 33, blind and carrying a white cane, was arrested in Muskegon, Mich., in September and charged with robbing two stores of a total of $340. (He got only $20 from one clerk, who might have tricked Martin into believing he was giving him higher-denomination bills.)

Recurring Themes

In News of the Weird earlier this year was the report on Virginian Anthony M. Rizzo Jr., who had been granted permanent disability retirement (unable to do his job as school principal) for his "psychosexual disorder," which was that it was impossible for him to supervise females without trying to force sex on them. In October 1999, Paducah, Ky., gynecologist Harold D. Crall filed a lawsuit against Provident Life & Accident Insurance Co., demanding $8,700 a month disability for what he calls a sexual addiction; because of complaints from women, the state licensing board had revoked Crall's ability to practice ob-gyn.

Undignified Deaths

In Edwardsville, Ill., in October, a 48-year-old woman was accidentally shot to death by her husband as the couple posed in an Old West-style wedding photo with him holding a rifle. And in Willingboro, N.J., in November, as two partners in a record store were rehearsing what they would do if they ever got robbed, the partner acting as the clerk accidentally shot to death the partner acting as the robber.

Also, in the Last Month ...

Shopper Bryan Cote parked his $2,000 bicycle in the wrong spot at the Salvation Army store in Concord, N.H., and a clerk sold it for $15. A group of Albanians demanded that the U.N. Mission in Kosovo put its mascot stray dog, Unmik, to sleep because he is "Serbian." A fastidious fingerprint-wiping burglar was caught in Pittsburgh when he slipped up and left a print on the foil wrapper of a stick of gum. The founder of Cliffs Notes, the aid for the reading-averse, funded an endowed chair in English at the University of Nebraska. A Barbados pet-shop owner was arrested by Customs in Miami trying to smuggle in 55 tortoises (value $75 each) in his pants.

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