News of the Weird

Week of December 10, 2000


-- Doctors in England are under criticism, according to a November report in Canada's National Post, for having performed a leg-stretching surgery on Emma Richards, 16, apparently only for the purpose of making her happier about her height. She had aspired to be a flight attendant (minimum height, 5-foot-3) but had stopped growing at 4-foot-9. Surgeons fractured her femurs and inserted pins to gradually separate the pieces so that bone material would grow internally to fuse the pieces back together. (In the 10 months since the operation, she has grown five inches but also has endured a bad infection and two unintentional fractures.)

-- The Netherlands legalized prostitution in October (before that, it was merely tolerated), but also began regulating it as any other business. For example, among the workplace safety regulations applied to brothels: a well-lighted premises, the banning of carpets (too hard to clean), and separate showers and changing rooms for males and females. Also, prostitutes, like other "professionals," are required to register for consumer-protection purposes with local chambers of commerce, which routinely make such lists available to the public (which is not quite the same as having a public list of, say, plumbers).

Number One in the News

In September, engineers reported that the mecca of Brazilian "futbol," Maracana stadium, is corroding in places because so many fans, unwilling to miss a few minutes' action by queuing up at the restrooms, relieve themselves on the terraces. Also in a September international incident, Macedonian soldiers captured a very modest Albanian border officer who had wandered across the line; he said Macedonia-side trees provided better cover to answer nature's call than the sparse vegetation on his own side. Also in September, a 35-year-old man was convicted by a Nara, Japan, court for reaching into the next stall at a public restroom, which was occupied, maneuvering a wire and cup contraption, and scooping out freshly deposited urine, which he told the judge he needed for a skin condition.

Cultural Diversity

-- Critics of China's one-child policy say it has produced the country's most overindulged generation ever, a symptom of which is the Jin Duoba camp in Shanghai, famous for its tough-love regimen for overweight kids. According to an October story in the Chicago Sun-Times, the camp is modeled after military training, including requiring kids to crawl on their bellies while fake bullets fly overhead.

-- In September, The New York Times reported on a rhinoplasty fad among upscale Iranian women. Since Islam requires almost every part of women's bodies to be covered in public, getting a nose job has become virtually the only way in which Iran's conspicuous consumers can effectively avail themselves of plastic surgery. According to the Times, even the post-surgical bandages are seen as indicators of wealth.

-- Rome hairdresser Vittorio Giunta has created a stir this year by defiantly keeping his salon open past the decades-old, mandated closing time of 7 p.m., which he does sometimes in order to offer his customers haircuts during a full moon, which some believe is part of the same superstition by which crops grow faster during a full moon. According to a June New York Times report, the hours of operation of hairdressers and dozens of other artisans are rigidly controlled, which opponents say limits competition and proponents say allows Italians the luxury of not having to work so hard.

-- Full-Birth Abortion: Officials in a village near Wuhan, China, allegedly drowned a just-born baby in front of its parents in August for the parents' grossly violating the country's one-child policy. It was actually the couple's fourth child, and officials had earlier injected the mother with a saline solution to kill the fetus, but the baby was nevertheless born healthy. The Beijing government's official position is that the village authorities overstepped their bounds.

Crises in the Dog Community

-- Wilton Rabon told reporters in Seattle in September that he had no intention of dropping his seven-year-long appeal (that would be 49 in canine years) to get his Lhasa apso dog back. The dog, named Word, was declared vicious and impounded on "death row" in May 1993, but the matter has been tied up in court since then, with Rabon visiting Word's pen periodically yet unwilling to accept a compromise (exiling Word to faraway, but wide-open, spaces).

-- Hard Times for Gay Dogs: In October, Jerry Ekandjo, Namibia's home affairs minister, told police academy graduates in the capital city of Windhoek that constables must "eliminate (gays and lesbians) from the face of Namibia" and must also kill any "gay dog" that belonged to a gay or lesbian. (George Stephens Finley, 58, was convicted in June in Ocala, Fla., of killing his male poodle-Yorkie because he thought it was gay; it had become very playful with the other male family dog.)

Elect Me, and I'll Fight for You!

Joe Brown, a challenger for district attorney, got into a fistfight with the incumbent's brother at a restaurant in Sherman, Texas, the day before the election (lost the fight, won the election). And on the night of the primary election in September, two members of the Florida legislature got into a fistfight at a Miami radio station when one's father called the other's father a drug dealer. And Robert Votava, running for the Rhode Island General Assembly, was arrested the week before the election for throwing nine punches at a state tree-trimmer in his neighborhood (South Kingstown).


News of the Weird reported the January 2000 arrest of Samuel Feldman after a three-year, $8,000 spree of squeezing and smashing packages of bread and cookies in various Bucks County (Pa.)-area supermarkets (and who was finally caught in the act by a hidden camera). Though Feldman argued that he was simply a finicky shopper, Judge David Heckler found him guilty in September and told him to get help for this urge to mutilate bakery products. At a November sentencing hearing, Heckler exploded when informed that Feldman was continuing to deny guilt, but after a lawyer-client consultation, Feldman admitted he had "a problem" and promised that his wife would monitor his supermarket visits.

Least Competent Criminals

According to police in Pawtucket, R.I., Eugene Allen, 29, and his brother, Kenneth Bartelson, 35, were caught robbing an apartment's inhabitants in October. They were done in by Allen, who was assigned to be the lookout despite being legally blind; he failed to notice approaching police officers and then mistakenly thought he was talking confidentially to his brother when he was actually talking to a neighbor.

Also, in the Last Month ...

Two cousins clubbed each other in the face with farm tools (including a scythe) in a dispute over cornbread, jelly and chitterlings (Evergreen, Ala.). At a conference, AIDS doctors in Swaziland warned that U.S.-donated condoms were too small for the country's men and would break easily in use. A suicide-attempting woman changed her mind and called 911, but arriving attendants assumed she was already dead and walked out, requiring her to call 911 again to have the attendants sent back inside the house (Shawnee County, Kan.). A 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to assault for beating up her 18-year-old ex-boyfriend (blackening both eyes) because she was mad that he wouldn't kiss her after their prom last May (Skokie, Ill.).

(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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