News of the Weird

Week of August 6, 2000


-- On July 4 at Coney Island in New York, Japan's Kazutoyo "The Rabbit" Arai (who weighs 101 pounds) beat defending champ Steve Keiner (400 pounds) in the annual Nathan's international hot-dog-eating championship. Arai gobbled up 25 in 12 minutes, to Keiner's 16. Slim Japanese eaters have frequently won the contest, which struck Keiner as "one of God's mysteries," but another bulbous former U.S. champ, Ed Krachie (who ate 15 this year), once postulated the "Belt of Fat" theory, that surrounding fat limits stomachs' expansion.

-- Researcher Peter Cochrane of British Telecommunications continues development of his "Soul Catcher" brain-implanted microchip that he believes some day will be capable of recording all of a person's chemical reactions in all senses so as to capture "a lifetime's worth of experience and feeling," according to a June New York Times report. (Already, doctors at a Veterans Administration hospital believe they have trained a patient whose ability to communicate was shut down by a brain-stem trauma; after an implant, he can order a cursor around merely by thinking of where he wants it to go.)

The Art of Protest

In June, a British housewife held an appliance repairer hostage in her home for three hours until the company agreed to replace the faulty washing machine it had sold her and been unable to fix (Somerset, England). In April near Milan, Italy, about 30 voters showed up at the polls wearing only underwear, somehow in protest of excessive airport noise. In May, an unidentified man burst into a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., armed with jagged-edged soda bottles and threatened to kill himself if someone didn't stop Pepsi from selling sodas to eastern European countries.

Unclear on the Concept

-- In May, the Maricopa County (Ariz.) District Library announced that it had received a 15,000-book donation from a drive sponsored by the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, a campaign that all together distributed more than 1 million donated books. However, the Maricopa County gift consisted of 1,000 pasta cookbooks, 200 copies of a book on Windows 95 software, and 11,796 copies of the same children's book, "What Would Happen If ..."

-- In April, the New Hampshire legislature voted to correct its law on penalties for sex abuse of children. Adults convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child in New Hampshire can receive up to 20 years in prison, but until the new bill actually becomes law, molesting one's own child still draws a maximum of only seven years.

-- In May, a judge in Tampa, Fla., sentenced teen-ager Valessa Robinson to 18 years in prison for the confessed-to brutal beating death of her mother at the hands of Valessa and her boyfriend. Four days earlier, two other Florida judges had sentenced statutory-rape defendants (whose victims only reluctantly testified against them) to 71 years and 105 years in prison. (The first was a 25-year-old South Dakota man who clumsily romanced a 13-year-old Largo girl with a diamond ring; the second was a Miami college professor who had smuggled a somewhat-eager Honduran teen-age boy into the United States as a housemate and had occasional sex with him.)

Well, Sure!

-- Queens College (New York City) professor Harvey Baker told The New York Times in May that he had a dynamic new method for helping people overcome even intense fears of tarantulas. However, he had fallen far short of the 100 volunteers he needed to demonstrate the method because few people who have extreme tarantula phobia would participate in his study.

-- In February, Patrick Lee Harned, 17, who is jailed in Astoria, Ore., on charges that he killed a 7-year-old girl at the command of the voices in his head, turned to convicted serial killer Keith "Happy Face" Jesperson, serving a life term at the Oregon State Penitentiary, for advice on prison life, girls and, of course, defense strategy. Wrote Harned, "I just want to get my time done and do good and get married and have a kid and have a better life and walk on the beach with my wife, kid, family, and have a better life with help, amen. What can I do?"

-- An April New England Journal of Medicine article reporting the results of automobile whiplash claims in Saskatchewan before and after the province switched to no-fault insurance revealed that whiplash was much more common under the "fault" system. According to a commentator, part of the result might be due to victims gaming the system, but the results might also show that "if you have to prove you are ill, you can't get well."

In Their Own Words

Pittsburgh anti-circumcision activist Ron Miller, 58, speaking to a meeting of men to encourage foreskin-restoration in order to enhance penile sensitivity, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in April: "(The pleasure) you're going to get back is so different, don't expect your brain to understand it." He also admonished men not to delay, as he did: "I'm pissed off about the 40 years of wasted sex I had."


A genre given up in this column four years ago as No Longer Weird has been resurrected by advances in science. It has been known for years that production of heat-trapping methane by livestock flatulence was a major contributor to global warming, but the 1997 Kyoto protocol created technology incentives to reduce the problem, such as the development in Scotland recently of special bacteria for animal feed that converts the methane to less-noxious carbon dioxide in cows' digestive systems, and an industrial Beano-type supplement developed by a Canadian firm to ease cows' belches and other emissions.

Least Competent Criminals

In June, according to police in Detroit, Dwayne Nolan was to meet his lawyer at a police station so they could fill out the paperwork to get Nolan's car back after it had been impounded in an alleged drug deal. As Nolan awaited the lawyer's arrival, officers noticed that Nolan was in fact the same man currently wanted locally for murder. Said Sgt. Joe O'Leary later: "I've never seen anybody actually walk into a station on another matter, obviously knowing he's wanted on a murder warrant." To make it official, an officer asked the lawyer, matter-of-factly, to identify a photo taken from the warrant, which he did (according to the police), and Nolan was arrested.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 23-year-old man died from a friend's punch to the chest, delivered only after the man begged to be hit to relieve his hiccups (Ocean City, Md.). A vicious heat wave in Turkey was credited with saving a life when a suicidal woman on a mountainside swooned before she could leap, and was rescued. An America West pilot (who had flown the day before), riding as a passenger on an America West flight, went out of control, screaming, throwing things, and yelling "Get away from me," until he was restrained by the crew (Phoenix). A county judge (who is an opera fan) enlisted 21 jail inmates to be extras in a local production of Verdi's "Aida," earning community-service credits (Cincinnati).

(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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