News of the Weird

Week of March 25, 2001


-- At least 1,400 college students are majoring in "golf" at eight universities, with more schools about to start programs, according to a March Wall Street Journal report. One school just completed a $1.1 million student "learning laboratory" (that is, a model golf clubhouse), part of what is necessary to meet the demand for pros as new or expanded U.S. courses open at the rate of about one a day. Curricula include business classes, turf science, and many, many rounds of golf.

-- In Galesburg, Ill., in January, long-haul trucker Dana Turner, 40, explained to police that the child pornography in his truck was important to him in that it kept him from falling asleep at the wheel. According to the police report, Turner said he was so angry that pornographers would exploit children like that that his agitation kept him alert.

-- According to police reports on March 3 (the first day of sale of the $125 Nike Air Jordan Retro XI sneakers), shoe stores in Detroit, Milwaukee, Columbus, Ohio, and Peoria, Ill., needed officers to quell actual or budding customer violence because of insufficient supplies of the shoes, and in Sacramento, Calif., and Toledo, Ohio, entire malls had to be shut down as consumers threatened to take their frustrations out on Foot Locker and other stores.

Names in the News

The ex-student suing the Oklahoma University law school for expelling him (who announced in January he would appeal to the state supreme court): Mr. Perry Mason. The 58-year-old man arrested for exposing himself in the front window of a business in Nashua, N.H., in December: Mr. Joseph Dangle. The 25-year-old woman arrested in West Haven, Conn., in September for spitting on a police officer and then urinating in his patrol car: Ms. Lonna Leak. A deceased man in Union City, Tenn., the subject of a December obituary: Mr. Finis Newton Drummond. A high-school track-and-field star in Staten Island, N.Y., noted in a January issue of Sports Illustrated: Mr. I-Perfection Harris.

Government in Action

-- A Los Angeles Police Department report released in January revealed that, because of high turnover of operators and slowdowns in construction of new 911 facilities, a total of 219,733 calls to 911 last year were never answered by an operator, which, even when discounted by the 80 percent that are nonemergencies, averages to 120 emergency calls ignored each day.

-- This month's municipal elections in France marked the first application of the country's recent law requiring political parties to field an equal number of female and male candidates. Female officeholders are scarcer in France than any other European country (one-fifth the incidence as in Sweden), and political parties that fall short of female candidates are subject to heavy fines.

-- In February, Ohio prison officials sent the state finance board the preliminary medical bill for correcting a convicted murderer's severe nosebleed: $160,303 (but final costs are expected to be added). The man, who is serving 15 years to life, is a hemophiliac who asked for surgery to correct chronic sinusitis.

-- Federal marshals seized the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in February for back taxes, 91 days after church leaders and parishioners began occupying it in a vigil and 16 years after it began refusing to deduct withholding and Social Security taxes from employees' paychecks. The church's position on taxes, that it is governed only by God's law, was consistently rejected by courts over the years and finally by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. But in Norwich, Conn., Salvatore Verdirome said he plans no such protest as the state property tax people zero in on his Sanctuary of Love, a hillside field of 47 sky-blue bathtubs that form shelters for statues of the Virgin Mary, and on which he owes more than $100,000 in back taxes and utility bills for the last 30 years.

-- In January, Quebec's health insurance board approved about $3,000 (USD) in payments for breast implants for a 15-year-old girl after a psychiatrist submitted a recommendation calling the surgery "necessary" for her mental health. (The next week, following the predictable outcry, a board official announced, to a chorus of skeptical critics, that the psychiatrist's recommendation was irrelevant and that the girl actually suffered from a medical condition ("aplasia of the breast," or a lack of mammary glands, which made her breasts unusually small) that required surgery.)

The Cash Value of Hurt Feelings

Raymond Jones filed a complaint after having angrily stalked off his job during the 1998 holiday season, never to return, at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Vancouver, British Columbia, because his boss told him to set up artificial poinsettias in a seasonal display, which he took as a directive to support the abhorrent idea of "Christmas" (he is a Jehovah's Witness). And the very petite Brenda Marshall said a constable in St. John's, Newfoundland, violated her civil rights as a short person by stopping her car, believing an underage child was driving. (Results: Mr. Jones won a $30,000 judgment from the province's human rights panel in January; Ms. Marshall lost in the province's court of appeals in January.)


News of the Weird noted in February 2000 the ascendance of eunuchs to elected office in India, thought to be attributed to a backlash against traditional corruption and to support for the nothing-to-lose attitude of the "hijras," most of whom are males castrated at birth, who make their living either as prostitutes or professional pests. Following elections in November and December, the totals stood at two mayors, several council members and a state legislator, Shabnam Mausi, who announced that "she" (as hijras prefer) would soon apply for the estimated 500,000 hijras to be an official national political party.

People Different From Us

Pediatric pathologist Dr. Dick Van Velden lost his hospital job in the Netherlands in February after an examination of his storage locker in Liverpool, England, revealed that he had removed (for research purposes but without parental permission) and stored the organs of more than 800 deceased children (in addition to a child's head, which he kept in a jar). Two days later, prosecutors in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he also recently worked, asked for extradition so that Van Velden could explain the presence of children's organs in heat-sealed bags in a locker in that city. Colleagues interviewed by Canada's National Post suggest Van Velden was so absorbed with his research that he simply collected organs and forgot about them.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A wind-blown skydiver landed on a woman serving beer during a Daytona Beach Bike Week event at which women wrestle in a vat of cole slaw, sending the woman to the hospital for three days. A homeowner forked over $40,000 to have his house lifted and moved three feet back to comply with a zoning rule (Snohomish County, Wash.). A Hoover, Ala., BP gas station owner, chasing after a customer who skipped out on a $20 fill-up, stayed with him at high speeds down Interstate 65 and U.S. 231 for 130 miles before finally giving up. Though he had not fought since July 1999 and in fact passed away in October 2000, boxer Darrin Morris advanced in the latest (January 2001) World Boxing Organization super-middleweight rankings, from 11th to 5th.

(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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