News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF APRIL 14, 2002


-- University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, 39, has for 20 years worn computer components on his body for ongoing research and even calls himself a cyborg, and carries enough documentation that he had never (even after Sept. 11) caused problems with airport security. (He wears computerized glasses and headgear and an electronic body suit; is constantly connected to the Internet; can see behind him; and can "feel" items across a room.) However, on Feb. 18, officials at St. John's, Newfoundland, airport would not let him board for two days while searching and testing him and making background checks. When they OK'd him on Feb. 20, about $50,000 worth of his equipment had been broken, and he was bleeding from having his chest electrodes removed. Two weeks later, Mann filed a lawsuit against Air Canada and Canada's transportation authority.

-- As a longstanding part of his lecture on "assault and battery," University of Virginia torts professor Kenneth Abraham said he gently taps the shoulder of a student at random in his class to illustrate the principle that even negligible unwanted contact can be costly if the victim is uniquely vulnerable in ways that no one could have expected. Indeed, Abraham did not know that a student he tapped recently, Marta Sanchez, had been raped a while back and that the tap apparently triggered fear and stress. In March, Sanchez filed a $35,000 lawsuit against Abraham, claiming that the tap constituted assault and battery.

Insurance Industry Blues

The Swiss Re reinsurance company told financial analysts in February that it would likely post its first yearly loss since 1866 unless a court agrees with it that the two Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center (18 minutes apart) were just one big event, thus saving it at least $3.5 billion. And the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in March that two widows can collect on their husbands' life insurance policies even though the men died while committing crimes (one while attempting murder; the other when cocaine-filled balloons burst in his stomach).

Government in Action

-- In March, Jefferson County, Colo., sheriff John Stone informed the Denver Rocky Mountain News (with which he has been feuding over allegedly covered-up evidence regarding the mass shootings at Columbine High School) that his e-mails and letters about the case might be released under the state's public-records law, but that he could not be sure unless the newspaper first paid the cost for gathering up his correspondence files so that his lawyers could inspect them. The sheriff's office calculated that the retrieval cost would be, at a minimum, $1,072,200.

-- Latest Unintended Consequences: A 2002 Oregon law makes owners of partly electric cars pay $15 more to register them than owners of gas-guzzlers pay to register theirs, in order to replace the gasoline taxes the environment-conscious motorists are saving by driving fuel-efficient cars. And Arizona state Rep. Linda Binder's proposed law would prohibit allowing unrestrained dogs to ride in the back of pickup trucks, although for the past 18 years, Arizona legislators have tried but failed to enact a similar provision for kids in the back of pickups.

Great Art!

-- Last Christmas season, to demonstrate "fertilization" of the earth, the Copia art emporium in Napa, Calif., exhibited 35 squatting, butt-baring figurines by Spanish artist Antoni Miralda (including nuns, angels, Santa Claus and the pope). A Copia spokesperson said placing such defecating statuettes in Nativity scenes is a traditional activity in the Catalonia region of Spain.

-- In March, the cat belonging to avant-garde British artist Tracey Emin ran away, prompting Emin to create fliers to nail up around the neighborhood asking for help finding it. When neighbors realized that the missing cat was Emin's, her posters began disappearing and were being offered on the street for as much as about $800. A spokesperson for East London's White Cube gallery, who is sometimes in the position of defending Emin from critics who deny that her work qualifies as "art" (Emin's most famous piece was a messy bed), told reporters that the poster was not art, even though the public might regard it as art.

-- New York artist Chrissy Conant, 39, will display 13 of her reproductive eggs, floating in silicone, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., in May, in an exhibit addressing the pressures that women feel when their biological clocks are ticking down. Conant said in an interview that, in fact, she was actively seeking a man: "Consider me for consumption and consider my eggs, because I think they're pretty good."

People Different From Us

The U.S. Postal Service revealed in March that 10 men had already been convicted as part of an Internet group that exchanged videos of themselves administering beatings to children (often their own). One man wanted to join the club but lacked an authentic video to contribute and so made one of himself administering corporal punishment to a small mannequin. Among the group: a middle school teacher, a nurse, a former Boy Scout leader, and a former Sunday school teacher.

Unclear on the Concept

Carol Urness, recently retired University of Minnesota librarian, opened a used-book store in February in St. Anthony, Minn., consisting of about 1,000 books from her own collection, but told a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter that often she refuses to sell a book on the shelf because she can't stand to part with it. "The first day, a woman walked in and bought three books," she said, "and I about had a stroke." "This bookstore is hard to find," she added, "and once you get here, it's almost impossible to buy anything."


Just a few weeks ago, News of the Weird reported on electricity salesman Dennis Lee, who is under order from attorneys general in seven states, but a more recent report by Las Vegas Weekly shed even more light on the scams, which have so far hooked more than 2,000 people. One of Lee's dealers, Conrad Sorensen of Henderson, Nev., told the newspaper that he purchased (for $20,000 in 1999) the right to sell Lee's free-energy inventions (e.g., silent jackhammers, oil-eating balls, cars that run on water) and to recruit fee-paying "witnesses," who would buy Lee's generators, get free electricity for life, and sell their excess wattage to nonwitnesses. Sorensen, who believes Lee's work is a sign from God, said confidently that the magic generators will finally be unveiled on July 4, 2002, but a Lee critic in Pennsylvania said Lee's people have been assigning, and missing, such deadlines for 15 years.

Our Civilization in Decline

The letter in which Texas gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez thanked the Texas State Teachers Association for its endorsement contained run-on sentences, a dangling modifier, a subject-verb disagreement, and the word "gonernor." The Rhino Management Group in Africa criticized "green hunting" (hunting with tranquilizer guns) because of evidence that animals hit more than once are permanently damaged. A 27-year-old woman told reporters in January that when she called Camarillo, Calif., police on Saturday, Dec. 22, to report a sexual assault, she was told that the staff is limited on weekends and that she should call back Monday morning (and when she did that, detectives counseled her to report for a medical exam).

And, in the Last Month ...

Thierry Meyssan's book "The Frightening Fraud" became a best seller in France with its thesis that the U.S. government staged the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Two people commandeered a Krispy Kreme truck with its back door open and led police on a chase that created a 15-mile-long trail of scattered doughnuts (Slidell, La.). A nursing home complained that the unionizing vote by its workers should be overturned since someone put a series of voodoo signs around the workplace, thus frightening the home's large Haitian-American work force (Miami). The annual April Fool's ice cream flavor this year at the Wahlburger restaurant was vanilla diced with hamburger sandwiches (bun, lettuce, meat); last year, french fries were used (Avon, N.Y.).

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