News of the Weird

Week of November 26, 2000


-- The attorney for alleged San Francisco dog-abuser Steven Maul said in November that Maul only bit the dog in the neck as part of an unorthodox but loving discipline method and that in fact Maul "is very oral" and "has French-kissed his dog." According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Boo, an 80-pound Lab, had darted out into traffic in November (again), and Maul, intending to teach against that, clamped down on Boo's neck in a way he said dogs signal dominance to each other, but did not break the skin. (Researchers have written about bite-training, but the method is currently far out of favor.)

-- In October, Rev. Derek McAleer revealed to his 350 small-town St. Marys (Ga.) United Methodist parishioners that their church had become the recipient of what is believed to be the largest one-time church donation in history: $50 million from the estate of the recently deceased man who founded the local telephone company. Actually, the donor, Warren Bailey, was a long-time church supporter but was also known in town for not having attended services in more than 20 years.

In an Ordinary Year, This Would Be Weird Election News

In the Sept. 19 primary in New Ashford, Mass., none of the town's 202 registered voters cast ballots, including the disgusted town clerk, who manned the polls for 14 hours. And a Green Party candidate for the Maine legislature failed to vote for himself in the June primary, leaving him with zero votes and forcing him to return his public financing. And Texas Lt. Gov. Rick Perry sent a fund-raising letter in July that not only shook down lobbyists but asked lobbyists to rank their clients as to how much they could be expected to be shaken down for (from $1,000 to $25,000). And the money flowed so freely at the GOP convention in August that Philadelphia Inquirer reporters discovered an accidentally discarded $5,000 lobbyist's check to a congressman stuck to the bottom of a utility cart outside the hall.

Great Art!

-- The Golden Tower Project, an installation by Seattle artists at this year's Burning Man festival, consisted of 400 jars of urine from other artists, stacked and electroluminescently lighted ("gorgeous," "faintly blue and gold," "warm, kind of like biological stained glass," according to Seattle's The Stranger weekly). (In 1993, News of the Weird reported that New York City artist Todd Alden had asked 400 art collectors worldwide to send him samples of their feces so he could offer them for sale in personalized tins. Said Alden, "Scatology is emerging as an increasingly significant part of artistic inquiry in the 1990s.")

-- News of the Weird has reported on scientists who borrow the jellyfish's "green protein" for medically productive genetic modifications, but Chicago artist Eduardo Kac created controversy in September by proposing to create embryos with the jellyfish's green-light-producing gene just to make visually appealing organisms, such as a glowing rabbit. (Kac's major work so far is "Genesis," a sentence from the Old Testament, translated into Morse Code, transposed onto DNA, inserted into fluorescent bacteria, and lit up when anyone accesses the piece on Kac's Web site.)

-- In a summer contract with the city of Montreal, artist Devora Neumark performed "The Art of Conversation," which consisted of her standing at the entrance to a subway station from noon to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and "conducting spontaneous interchange with interested parties on a variety of topics."

Frontiers of Science

-- A U.S. Forest Service researcher announced in August that her team had discovered the largest living thing ever found, a 24-centuries-old fungus, covering 2,200 acres in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon; DNA testing confirmed that the underground, stringlike structure was all the same organism. And three weeks later near Lake Okeechobee, a University of Florida biologist discovered what he called an "evolutionary relic," a previously unknown, carnivorous, flowering plant that grows entirely underground but by photosynthesis.

-- An August British Broadcasting Corp. documentary, "Brain Story," featured a man whose cranial lobes were surgically severed in order to treat epilepsy and who now is able to do what he calls the "party trick" of drawing different designs, with each hand, at the same time.

-- Japan's Mizuno Corp. has developed a synthetic material for men's underpants that would keep the covered area one Celsius degree cooler than cotton underwear and therefore helpful, for example, to skiers (and, say doctors, to those desiring increased sperm production), according to an August New Scientist report. However, Canadian polyester-mesh underwear manufacturer Stanfield's Ltd. disputed Mizuno's claim of superiority; said a spokesman, "We just haven't got up the guts to measure the temperature of someone's crotch yet."

"Winning Isn't Everything; It's the Only Thing"

Thomas Lavery, 56, was indicted in Akron, Ohio, in August on nine counts of roughing up two of his high-achieving, home-schooled daughters when they performed worse in their endeavors than he expected. According to the indictment, when one daughter came in second in the National Spelling Bee, botching "cappelletti," Lavery threatened to kill her and had to be physically restrained. The girl told the Akron Beacon Journal that Lavery would punch them in the head for their failures and that screaming and profanity were common. Lavery complained to the Associated Press that he was "easier on (his kids) than my father was (on me)."


News of the Weird reported in 1999 on the lawsuit by 5,400 descendants of the 18th-century Welsh pirate Robert Edwards, claiming ownership of 77 acres of lower Manhattan (including the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange). In August 2000, four descendants claimed to have found a copy of a 1778 lease for the land, which had been given to Edwards shortly before by a grateful King George, stating that Edwards' heirs would get the land back in 1877. The value of the land now is conservatively estimated at $750 billion, or $140 million per descendant. Courts in South Wales, New York City and Pittsburgh have opened proceedings.

Least Competent Criminals

Customs Agent Adventures: Cocaine "mule" Jose Antonio Campos-Cloute was arrested at the Melbourne, Australia, airport, in September after a momentary lapse; as he was filling out the Customs form, he absentmindedly checked the "yes" box on whether he was carrying illicit substances, and that led to a search. And Briton Alison McKinnon was sentenced in August to five years in prison in Turkey for attempting to smuggle six pounds of heroin out, strapped to her chest; she was ready to board a plane home from Istanbul but was designated for searching only because one of her body-piercings set off a metal detector.

Also, in the Last Month ...

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn a Californian's drug-possession conviction even though one juror admitted he decided guilt by flipping a coin (which the juror defended by noting that he did two out of three). An Atlantic City casino introduced a row of stationary bicycles rigged with 25-cent slot machines. In separate incidents four days apart in Chicago, two cab drivers accidentally drove off with customers' toddlers sleeping in the back seat and required police help in reuniting the families. Doctors revealed that transplanting part of a woman's ovaries into her arm was successful in growing new eggs, for in vitro fertilization (San Diego).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or, or go to

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

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