News of the Weird

Week of April 15, 2001

LEAD STORIES

-- Taking advantage of the California electricity crisis, aluminum producers Kaiser, Columbia Falls and Golden Northwest have suspended production in their plants along the Columbia River and are now in the business of merely reselling their plants' electricity to California (for 18 times what it cost them), according to a February Business Week report. Kaiser says that aluminum production is unprofitable now, anyway, and that it still pays the workers in its idled plants; however, the regional power administration in Portland, Ore., pointed out that the firms acquired their rights to electricity only as aluminum producers, not as electricity brokers, and wants them to give back some profits.

-- Even Rugby Has Standards: Some players try to intimidate opponents by grabbing their genitals during tackles, but Australia's National Rugby League concluded in March that West Tigers' player John Hopoate went beyond that and routinely stuck his finger in opponents' anuses. The league suspended him for 12 weeks, but Hopoate resigned, and several days later was back in the news announcing he would seek legal action against the New Zealand Cancer Society for using his photo in ads to publicize the value of prostate exams.

-- A 59-year-old man was accidentally run over and torn in half by a slow-moving tractor-trailer at a gas station in West Pensacola, Fla., on March 22, but according to a Pensacola News Journal report, the torso portion continued to show signs of life, and paramedics airlifted it to the West Florida Regional Medical Center, where the man was not pronounced dead until about 3 1/2 hours later. Said a truck driver-witness: "I couldn't believe it. If you're cut in half, wouldn't you die instantly?"

Bodily Essences in the News

In February, tennis star Boris Becker admitted that he is the father of Russian model Angela Ermakova's year-old baby girl; just a month earlier, newspapers in Germany were reporting that he had accused the model of impregnating herself with his sperm in an extortion plot engineered by Russian gangsters. And in December, West Palm Beach, Fla., socialite Nanette Sexton won a divorce court ruling to have her husband's bedsheet tested to prove that the dried-up wet spot contained DNA from his girlfriend. And in a February article in the journal Nature, a University of Liverpool researcher found that male sheep on the Scottish island of St. Kilda had so much sex during mating season (average of 13 times a day) that they ran low on sperm, allowing many smaller, weaker rams to move up in the mating queue.

Can't Possibly Be True

-- Officials in the tony Silicon Valley town of Woodside, Calif. (population 5,600), recently debated compliance with a state law requiring that town to have at least 16 "affordable housing" units (maximum rent for a one-bedroom apartment, $870) in that otherwise-high-end real estate market, and the best they could come up with, according to a November Associated Press report, was to allow horse farmers to create "apartments" for middle-class residents inside their barns.

-- Miguel Castillo was finally freed from prison in Illinois in January after having served 11 years for a murder despite having an airtight alibi. At Castillo's trial, the medical examiner said the murder occurred "before May 11 (1988)," and lab tests later fixed the day as May 7, 8 or 9, but Castillo was in jail on other charges during that time, and records showed he was not released until May 14. Still, a jury convicted him because police officers said they heard Castillo confess (though he consistently denied that).

-- Frankfurt University researchers, according to a January issue of New Scientist, found that ants living in bamboo stems in Malaysian rain forests keep their nests dry by drinking any water that seeps in, then exiting the nest, urinating, then returning to the nest, repeating the process over and over until the nest is dry. The researchers found that 2 milliliters of water in a nest caused a colony's ants to scurry back and forth until they had urinated 3,000 droplets outside.

Unclear on the Concept

-- A December recommendation by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (after investigating the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111) urged airlines to drastically shorten the checklist for cockpit detection of onboard fires. At the time of the crash, Swissair's checklist took about 30 minutes to run through; Flight 111 crashed 20 minutes after the first report of smoke.

-- Specially commissioned Braille posters with the theme of equal treatment for the blind were on display this winter at the Truro Leisure Center (Truro, England) and the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta) human resources department. However, sighted people cannot read the posters because the words are only in Braille, and the blind cannot read the posters because in both locations the limited-edition posters were hung on the wall behind glass covers, to "protect" them.

Least Competent People

Marcus Calhoun, 24, was taken to the county jail in Little Rock, Ark., on Jan. 29 on several misdemeanor charges, for which he would have been given citations and released after several hours' paperwork and records checks. However, he became restless, and when he heard the jailer call the name of a man he knew was asleep in a back cell, he pretended to be that man and was released. Family members convinced him to turn himself in (at about the same hour he would have been released, anyway), but the result of his ruse is that he now faces a felony escape charge.

People Different From Us

-- In March, a Norway, Maine, man (unnamed in a police report in the Oxford County Advertiser Democrat) was arrested for indecent exposure just after he waited in line and made a purchase at a convenience store with his zipper down and his genitals in plain view. The man's last brush with the law was in February at his apartment house, where police discovered him fully clothed but with a frying pan inside his pants, which he said was to protect his genitals in case he got into a fight.

Thinning the Herd

A 19-year-old college student was killed in March when she crashed into a parked trailer while joy-riding inside a garbage can down what is believed to be the world's steepest street, in Dunedin, New Zealand. And a 16-year-old boy froze to death in February after becoming tangled in cables atop a Des Moines, Iowa, church he had just burglarized. And a 19-year-old straight-A student fell to his death in March from a Furman University dormitory balcony when he lost his balance trying to win a spitting-for-distance contest with two friends (Greenville, S.C.).

Also, in the Last Month ...

Incumbent Mark Andrew Kern was re-elected mayor of Belleville, Ill., over challenger Mark Alan Kern (with not one voter so far expressing Florida-style confusion over the ballot). A Maryland state agency reported that the No. 1 cause of death of pregnant women for the years 1993-98 was homicide. Several angry viewers made death threats against Philadelphia TV meteorologist John Bolaris after his prediction of an early-March snowstorm fizzled. Police in Christchurch, New Zealand, got burglar Stuart Robert McPherson's confession when he called up a victim just to taunt him about his "stuff (being) crap."

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

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