News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MARCH 10, 2002


-- In December, Colorado Republican Party activist Randal David Ankeney, 30, was charged in another sexual assault incident, following his July arrest for assaulting a 14-year-old girl he had met in an Internet chat room. (The December arrest involved what the Colorado Springs Gazette termed a "girl" but whose age was not disclosed.) And in February, the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew the "Republican of the Year" award that had been scheduled to be presented to Virginia party activist Mark A. Grethen, 44; the committee had just learned of his conviction on six counts of sex crimes involving children.

-- Matsushita Electric Industrial runs a state-of-the-art retirement home near Osaka, Japan, and according to a BBC News report in February uses robotic companion bears to comfort the residents (average age: 82) and also to continually check health signs. Among the fur-covered bears' skills: They can respond to voice command and can monitor residents' alertness by timing their responses to spoken questions.

Hard Times for Tree Huggers

The Washington Times reported in December that the U.S. Forest Service had admitted that three of its employees, and other government environmentalists, had planted endangered lynxes' hairs in Washington state forests, thus skewing a research project on whether to restrict development in those forests. And the FBI disclosed in February that the largest U.S. domestic terrorist group (600 attacks in five years) is the environmentalist Earth Liberation Front, whose spokesman took the Fifth Amendment 50 times during a February congressional hearing. And a Cloverdale, Australia, terminal cancer patient complained that he suffered through an agonizing Christmas because a Greenpeace protest shut down the Sydney nuclear reactor that makes his high-tech pain-relieving radioisotope Quadramet.

Cultural Diversity

-- Now operating in Seoul are at least eight "booking clubs," in which males and females pay waiters to forcibly introduce them to each other because South Korean social rules discourage voluntary contact with strangers. According to a January Wall Street Journal report, men may pay several hundred dollars a night to demand introductions, and women pay a similar amount knowing (and preferring) that they will be physically delivered by the waiters to prospective suitors' tables.

-- Licensing officials in New York City declined to issue a permit for the highlight of the two-day Russian end-of-winter gala in February at Prospect Park in Brooklyn because the festival's signature event, the centuries-old "stenka na stenku," calls for two teams of 50 men to engage in vicious fistfights. Said one organizer, "We will have an ambulance standing by (but if) we lose a tooth, we lose a tooth. No big deal."

-- A January Los Angeles Times report described a dozen emerging businesses in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, devoted to staging elaborate break-up schemes (for couples and for business partners) so that the dumping partner does not have to convey the bad news personally. In complicated cases (highly resisting dumpees, or with much money at stake), the breakup agent might charge $100,000 and employ schemes as elaborate as a CIA caper, perhaps creating false identities and false companies or staging sham events.

Eeewwww, Gross!

-- A December report by St. Louis's KMOV-TV caused an uproar when it revealed that the city's 3,500 euthanized dogs and cats a year are disposed of at a local rendering plant that sells some of its product (recycled fat and protein) to pet food manufacturers. The rendering plant subsequently stopped accepting dogs and cats (which it had been taking for free, as a public service), but the city's crisis continues, in that cremation and other alternate forms of disposal are very expensive.

-- Among the 39 charges leveled by the Tennessee Health Department against former state medical examiner Dr. Charles Harlan in December were that he deliberately mutilated bodies during autopsies so that "no one (could) second-guess me"; vastly overused "sudden infant death syndrome" as the cause of death for babies; and let animals "roam freely in his facility and consume the organs of deceased persons."

People Different From Us

Bad Habits: Mohammad Saboor, 56, was arrested in January as the well-dressed man who has spontaneously kissed at least nine female strangers on Toronto streets since November. And Melvin G. Hanks, 54, was arrested in Belleville, Ill., in February, accused of stealing 92 ponytails in 13 attempts from a salon that was collecting the hair to make wigs for children who had lost theirs because of disease. And Ronald Castle Sr., 54, was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., in January, suspected as the man who has been masturbating into colleagues' coffee cups at the county Department of Social Services.

Least Competent Criminals

Three Alaskans were charged recently with ill-thought-out thefts: Todd Shobe, 38, was arrested in Anchorage in January when his SUV got stuck in the mud at a construction site after being weighed down with all the tools he was trying to drive away with. And Roger D. Yost, 40, and William Isberg, 40, were arrested in Fairbanks in February when they tried to get a 500-pound safe out the door of a Moose Lodge hall, seemingly forgetting that they had arrived at the Lodge only on bicycles.

The Classic Middle Name (all-new)

Arrested for murder: Christopher Wayne Davis (Pearl River, La., November), Jerry Wayne Dean (Jackson County, Ky., November), Billy Wayne Cope (Rock Hill, S.C., November), Joshua Wayne Andrews (Woodbridge, Va., January), Jeffrey Wayne Gorton (Flint, Mich., February), Timothy Wayne Adams (Houston, February). Murder Warrant Issued: Jason Wayne Johnson (Comal County, Texas, December). Sentenced for Murder: Mark Wayne Campmire (Litchfield, Conn., January). Executed for Murder: Randall Wayne Hafdahl (Huntsville, Texas, January), Stephen Wayne Anderson (San Quentin, Calif., January). Avoided a Murder Charge Only Because He Was Killed in a Shootout With Police: Danny Wayne Sand (Brandon, Manitoba, December). Appealed or Sought Parole: convicted murderers Kenneth Wayne Woodfin (Richmond, Va., January), Gary Wayne Sutton (Knoxville, Tenn., January).

Our Civilization in Decline

An education law firm in Adelaide, Australia, recommended that its client private schools obtain student permission in writing before sending report cards home, so as not to violate new privacy legislation that took effect in December. And biology teacher Christine Pelton resigned in December from Piper High School near Kansas City, Kan., after the school board refused to allow her to give grades of zero to the 28 students who plagiarized their term projects. And to cut absentee rates, a school in Sooke, British Columbia, began passing out perfect-attendance coupons this year, good for free fast-food sandwiches and french fries.

And, in the Last Month ...

A half-ton cow jumped a 6-foot slaughterhouse fence and hid out so heroically for 12 days that when she was finally captured, the mayor said he'd present her a key to the city (Cincinnati). A tenured University of Texas chemistry professor was fired for having a messy office (so many books as to be a fire hazard) and a messy laboratory (corrosive materials) (San Antonio). A 42-year-old man was hospitalized after being stabbed in the stomach with a swordfish during a brawl outside his home (Madeira Beach, Fla.). A University of Greenwich professor announced the discovery of the oldest fossilized vomit on record (of a four-flippered reptile from 160 million years ago) (London).

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