News of the Weird

Week of February 27, 2000

-- The Mellowing of the American Cowboy: "Holistic herding," or "low-stress livestock handling," is "changing the whole face of the West," according to a U.S. conservation official, quoted in Canada's National Post in December. Cattle are happier, healthier and more obedient, he said, if they are not shouted at or subjected to stress but, as one rancher put it, allowed "to make up their own minds (where to go)." Not surprisingly, more-rugged cowboys avoid ranches that have adopted the change. And in January, nearly 8,000 cowboys attended the 16th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.; before submitting their verses, entrants had to prove to a screening committee that they are real cowboys.

-- According to a February Wall Street Journal report, the annual "Milk Bowl," featuring competition between college teams for the national championship of dairy sniffing, crawls with corporate recruiters seeking to sign the nation's top flavor-evaluation talent, at starter salaries of up to $40,000. Mississippi State's three-person squad won the 1999 contest in October, winning "ice cream" (by coming the closest in agreement with professional judges as to sensory quality), finishing second in "cheddar" and "yogurt," third in "cottage cheese" and "milk," and fifth in "butter."

Nothing Can Go Wrong

On the heels of the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in September due to engineers' failure to standardize readings between metric and the English system, a U.S. government report in December revealed that a 1998 test of mock nuclear warheads failed because a contractor had accidentally installed dead batteries in them and was not able to detect the error. Nonetheless, at a speech in February in Albuquerque, the manager of the Cassini interplanetary cruiser now heading for Saturn dismissed his program's apprehensive critics, even though his spacecraft blasted off with 72 pounds of plutonium in 1997 and approached Earth again in August 1999.

Police Blotter

-- Two undercover policewomen running a prostitution sting in Dothan, Ala., in October declined to arrest a pickup-truck-driving john, around age 70, despite his three attempts to procure their services. He first offered to give the women the three squirrels he had just shot, but they ignored him (too much trouble to store the evidence). A few minutes later, he added to the offer the used refrigerator in his truck, but the officers again declined (same reason). On the third trip, he finally offered cash: $6, but without the squirrels and refrigerator. The officers again declined but said they resolved to arrest him if he returned, but he did not.

-- Texas Bomb Squad Follies: In November, a patrol officer in San Antonio confiscated two live bombs and nonchalantly took them across town in his squad car to the drug property room, having mistakenly identified them as elaborate marijuana bongs. Two weeks later, police in Cedar Park (near Austin), responding to a check-cashing store's report of a "pipe bomb," sent only an animal control officer to the scene because the 911 operator had instead understood "python."

-- Joshua Marete Mutuma, 32, was arrested in Modesto, Calif., in November on suspicion of impersonating his wife. Mutuma's wife had a restraining order against him, and Mutuma arrived at the courthouse dressed as a woman with a long black wig and 5 o'clock shadow, attempting to have the order dismissed, and responding to the clerk's questions in falsetto.

-- Little Rock, Ark., police officer Carlton Dickerson's 57-day suspension for sleeping on the job was upheld by a city commission in October despite his claim of the disability of sleep apnea. In his four years on the force, he has been caught asleep six times and has wrecked five patrol cars. (Dickerson once denied to internal affairs investigators that he was asleep even after two fellow officers said they needed to rap on his desk for 15 minutes to wake him.)

-- Campaign to Help Police Recruiting: In August a judge in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ruled that undercover police could legally touch prostitutes' private parts if it were necessary to effect the crime. And in November, the Arizona Republic newspaper revealed that police guidelines in Mesa, Ariz. (contrary to virtually all departments' guidelines in the United States), permit undercover officers to receive massages while nude if in the course of a prostitute sting operation.


-- In its November findings after a yearlong study of correctional institutions around the world, Canadian prison officials recommended that nearly all of its facilities be made to resemble its most lenient, including eventually removing razor wire, bulletproof glass and guards' guns, and giving all but a handful of the most heinous inmates control over the keys to their cells so as to establish "a culture of respect."

-- In a long-classified report on the World War II era, released in October, Britain's Special Operations Executive office warned that spies should know themselves better psychosexually in order not to compromise their missions. For example, careless destruction of code materials shows a castration complex; getting captured reveals masochistic tendencies; parachuting is a sexual stimulant; failure to bury the discarded parachute shows exhibitionistic tendencies; and fear of parachuting responds to "the unconscious reproduction of the trauma of birth."

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

In January, Bobby G. Olson, 34, pled guilty to vehicular homicide for an incident in rural Breckenridge, Minn., in 1998. Olson and another man were arguing in a bar over who had the more powerful pickup truck, and the two left to settle things by chaining their trucks together and having a tug of war. Olson won by default when the other man's truck slid into a ditch, rolled, and, when the man was ejected, came down on top of him.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in 1997 on how Palm Springs, Calif., airport authorities felt the need to issue hygiene regulations for taxi drivers serving arriving passengers, including requiring regular toothbrushing and daily showers with soap. In January 2000, the chief executive of Dublin (Ireland) Tourism told the city's taxi drivers to bathe daily and change clothes regularly in order to quell recent tourist complaints, although many drivers maintained the odors in their cabs came from previous passengers.

Undignified Deaths

A 58-year-old man was killed when his small construction truck accidentally fell into a 25-foot-deep hog-manure lagoon near Laverne, Okla., in December (though divers could not find the body in the muck for 18 days). The same fate befell a 23-year-old man in December when his out-of-control pickup truck smashed through a fence in Orono, Maine, and landed in a 400,000-gallon tank of raw sewage. And a 57-year-old man accidentally asphyxiated in Duluth, Minn., in December; his body was found stuck head-first in a sump drain in his basement.

Also, in the Last Month ...

After two white police officers shot a black colleague, Providence (R.I.) mayor Vincent Cianci called on the city's poet laureate to help the community heal. An imprisoned Minnesota arsonist legally changed his name (at taxpayer expense) to G.Q. Fires. Courthouse employees in Rome, Italy, found papers on 700,000 open criminal cases accidentally stored in a basement since 1989. Spain dropped the minimum-IQ requirement for its military from 90 to 70. A federal tax official in Moscow, Russia, announced that confiscated vodka would henceforth be turned over to a government contractor to reprocess into antifreeze.

(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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