News of the Weird

Week of August 15, 1999

-- According to a July dispatch from the Agence France-Presse news service, a group of Yugoslavs will announce on Sept. 9 the creation of a cyber version of their undivided, pre-1991 country, with citizenship papers, passports and, eventually, it hopes, United Nations membership. Cyber Yugoslavia has already signed up thousands but will not occupy physical space, except about 20 square meters somewhere on Earth, to house its Internet server (now at www.juga.com).

-- In April, Citizens Bank, the holder of the mortgage on Edward J. Brown's $90,000 Dartmouth, Mass., home, sold it at auction for $60,000 because Brown had dallied over paying the final $324 last year. He had made 299 of the 300 payments but held off on the last one because he mistakenly thought having a mortgage reduced his legal liability. Brown also apparently ignored several letters and phone calls inquiring about the final payment.

Britain's Most Eccentric Supermarket Chain

Recent Events at Tesco: January: considered allowing its Hastings store to run a nude-shopping night after the normal closing hour (but eventually declined because of the potential for mishandling of fresh fruits and vegetables). May: told farmers to grow smaller melons after focus groups reported that large melons made small-busted female customers feel inferior. May: tested its pies ballistically after receiving a surge of requests for recommendations on which of its pies is best for throwing (answer: egg custard). June: began a program to sew instructions on self-testing for testicular cancer into men's underwear.

Uh-Oh

-- In April, the administration at Princeton University reaffirmed its faculty appointment of Australian philosophy professor Peter Singer to a prestigious chair in bioethics, saying that "the strength of his teaching and his research" outweighs "any particular point of view" he holds. One of Singer's points of view is that parents have the right to kill their severely deformed children in the first month of life.

-- In May the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias (disorders affecting the teeth, hair, nails and sweat glands of children) complained that it was hard enough to raise money for research for such obscure disorders without having Pfizer Inc. and its spokesman Bob Dole steal its nickname "E.D." as a euphemism for impotence. The foundation started using the term in 1981.

-- According to a March Chicago Tribune story, anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000 patients woke up during their surgeries in 1998, in possession of one or more of their senses (sometimes feeling searing pain) but unable because of muscle relaxants to move or tell their doctors they need more anesthesia. According to a professor of anesthesiology, the cause often is doctors' restrained use of anesthesia in order to minimize legal liability.

-- In March, the Rocky Flats nuclear cleanup site near Denver announced that it was packaging up more radiated waste than it had facilities for and would have to store the steel drums in tents, perhaps until the year 2006. The Rocky Flats environmental manager said he was confident the tents could withstand 100 mph winds and that, besides, the most lethal waste would be stored indoors. Still, an official of the neighboring town of Bloomfield called the idea "ridiculous."

Government in Action

-- The New York Times disclosed in June that about 2,000 obsolete, unfunctioning fire hydrants remain in place in New York City, dry for almost 20 years, whose only purpose is to allow the city to collect revenue from motorists who park too close to them. Supposedly, a contractor will begin removing them soon, for a fee of about $3,000 each.

-- Clean Air Act regulations announced by President Clinton in April establish the goal for returning national parks and wilderness areas to pre-industrial purity but only by the year 2064. States don't even have to decide on their plans until the year 2008. This program represents a frenzied acceleration by the Clinton administration, in that previous Environmental Protection Agency plans called for pure air in national parks by around 2190.

-- In March, the Oklahoma City Council agreed to pay a settlement to local video stores after police illegally seized copies of the Oscar-winning movie of Gunter Grass' classic, "The Tin Drum," which treats life in World War II-era Germany through the eyes of a young boy. The boy, disgusted by the grown-ups around him, uses special powers emanating from the drum to refuse adulthood and remain young in order not to have to join German society, a storyline missed by Oklahoma City police, who saw only that when the "boy" had sex, it must have been child porn. That oversimplification of obscenity law cost Oklahoma City taxpayers $400,000.

Perverted? Yes. Lazy? No

In May, a 32-year-old Austrian man was charged with tormenting women with obscene phone calls during the previous three years; he admitted to making 40,000 calls, which works out to 250 per week. One month later, Edward Lightfoot, 28, was charged with continuing to make obscene calls to women from a Michigan prison, where he is serving five years for stalking; in his prime, Lightfoot was said to have made as many as 200 obscene calls a day.

Recurring Themes

One of the classic reports from an early News of the Weird column in 1988 is of the Japanese inventor with a three-pole-and-brush system hooked to a water supply that will, when someone squeezes between the poles, start squirting water and vibrating, as sort of a car wash for humans. In July 1999, a Tokyo beauty parlor, Avant, announced that it had invented the world's first washing machine for humans, consisting of a 7-foot chamber (covering all but the head) with 13 shower jets. An 18-minute session sells for about $8 and makes the user feel like (according to a recent customer) "a dish in a dishwasher."

Thinning the Herd

In May, an 18-year-old man who jumped the turnstile at a Brooklyn, N.Y., subway station was killed while fleeing police when he leaped from the platform but couldn't avoid a train coasting into the station. And a 23-year-old Clearwater, Fla., bar-brawling man, who had been escorted out of the Turtle Club in March by a bouncer, sneaked back in and leaped off a staircase, trying to kick another man, but was killed when he landed on his head. (Also, the kick was ineffectual.)

Also, in the Last Month ...

Amnesty International charged that the Myanmar government just captured a 3-year-old girl, whom it called a political prisoner. Sailor Matt Boreham's attempt to cross the Atlantic solo ended after four miles, when he told the Newfoundland Coast Guard he didn't feel good and to please come get him. A weaving driver in Jerusalem was ticketed after police discovered he was steering with his elbows while he was having conversations on two cell phones at the same time. Virginia legislature candidate Al Bedrosian was arraigned on assault and battery charges for spanking a 2-year-old kid, not his own, who was running loose in a Roanoke hospital waiting room. A 20-year-old woman suffered a broken arm when she stood too close to a passing freight train while lifting her blouse to flash the conductor (Olathe, Kan.).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679, or Weird@compuserve.com.)

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