News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 23, 2002


-- The minimum age for attendance at tennis, soccer and golf academies has dropped to 2, according to a June CNN story bolstered by interviews with instructors, parents and doctors in New York City and the Washington, D.C., area. Most parents are motivated, say experts, by visions of their toddlers growing up to become top pro players or at least earning college scholarships. Said one parent, whose 3-year-old daughter hits 70 tennis balls a day, "I think you have an edge starting at 3 with all (my daughter's) friends starting at 4 or 5."

-- A May 26 high-speed car chase and Mafia shootout in Lauro, Italy (just east of Naples), illustrated the changing face of organized crime, according to local newspapers and a Reuters dispatch from Rome. The participants in the lengthy gunfight were not the usual lieutenants and soldiers but middle-aged women and teen-age girls associated with the Cava crime family, shooting it out with rival Camorra family head Salvatore Graziano and his granddaughters and their mother, presumably over control of business in and around Naples. Two women and a 16-year-old girl were killed.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (53) High-tech male perverts who hook up tiny video cameras to, among other things, bathroom smoke-detectors or bathroom ceiling fans, or their shoes, to videotape women intimately, as did, respectively, a Gibsonburg, Ohio, landlord in February, a Ballarat, Australia, factory owner in February, and a Tokyo TV personality in December. (54) And Japanese men who are rejected by women and decide to retaliate by making hundreds of silent hang-up phone calls, as with a Waseda University lecturer who allegedly made 920 such calls earlier this year to the woman who declined his offer for a first date.

Weird Workplaces

-- Perth, Australia, brothel owner Mary-Anne Kenworthy closed down for a day on April 30 because the influx of 5,500 U.S. Navy personnel on shore leave had left her workforce worn out. "We're the biggest and the best," she said, "(and) I'd rather take nothing than offer a poor service." She added, "I just wish they could dribble-feed the Yanks in, fly a thousand (in) at a time." (The Bremerton (Wash.) Sun carried a wire-service version of this story but later apologized for it to its readers since many Navy families in the Bremerton-Seattle area apparently did not appreciate learning this news.)

-- A subtle but apparently widespread corporate practice came to light earlier this year when the family of a deceased Wal-Mart warehouseman in Texas learned that the company had taken out a $64,000 life insurance policy on him, naming the company as beneficiary. Companies often buy policies for their top executives, but so-called "dead janitor" policies are usually purchased in secret, as tax dodges. Critics say that such companies lose the incentive to make their workplaces safer if they stand to collect on employees' deaths. Wal-Mart purchased about 350,000 such policies but canceled them this year after the practice was exposed.

Science Fair

-- According to Spanish biologist J.J. Negro (Estacion Biologica de Donana), reporting in the journal Nature in April, male Egyptian vultures compete for females on the basis of how brightly yellow the males' faces are, and that brightness varies directly with the amount of excrement they eat. Cartenoids in dung produce the yellow around the vultures' eyes, and only the strongest vultures can safely eat enough bacteria-laden feces to get a rich color.

-- Scientists at the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland, Australia, involved in ongoing research to reduce ozone-layer-corrupting methane production among cattle and sheep, reported in May that they have been studying why kangaroos are less flatulent than other animals and will soon begin testing 40 potentially methane-reducing bacteria found in their digestive tracts. Australian cows and sheep release 60 million tons of gas each year.

-- Hebrew University (Jerusalem) agriculture professor Avigdor Cahaner told reporters in May that he has been breeding featherless chickens (which supposedly are less expensive to raise) for a while now and believes they (which he calls "naked chickens") can be in commercial production in two years. An Israeli animal rights activist condemned the breeding because feathers protect the bird in several ways, but Cahaner said his new birds are more likely to survive in hot climates, where the premature death rate is more than 10 percent.

People Different From Us

Kimberly Fennessey was injured in Bryan, Texas, in May when, to test whether a .22-caliber pistol worked, she fired it at a frying pan she was holding, and it ricocheted and hit her above the right eye. And in Green Bay, Wis., Susan Winkler, 44, was charged with reckless endangerment in May for shooting her husband, Brian, in the groin, sending him to the hospital; she said the couple's sexual foreplay often included their shotgun, but this time she had forgotten it was loaded.

Least Competent Criminals

Police in Norfolk, Neb., are still trying to find Curtis Boyd, 23, after he skipped out on bail after allegedly trying to pass a check for $22 million at the Bank of Norfolk drive-through in May. Boyd had purchased a computer software check-writing program and apparently figured all he had to do to get the bank to give him money was to present a realistic-looking check with certain Federal Reserve code numbers. When the bank declined to take it, Boyd took the check back, decided apparently that the one imperfection in the check was the lack of an "issuing bank," and thus returned to the Bank of Norfolk after hand-writing the name "Reality Perspective Bank" at the top of the check. This time, the bank employees called the police.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

A 20-year-old man on his way to an eye doctor's appointment was injured when he accidentally walked into the side of a transit bus (Ambridge, Pa., May). Iowa City High School won the Iowa State Math Championship, but afterward, officials went back over the scores, discovered they had miscounted, and named West High School (also in Iowa City) the winner (April). A 39-year-old man with a bad stuttering problem claimed unlawful discrimination when he was turned down in his quest to become a licensed driving instructor; his trainer found that the man could not utter the word "stop" fast enough (London, April).

Our Civilization in Decline

South Korea's Supreme Court overturned theft convictions (31 incidents, about $2,400 worth of merchandise) against a woman on the ground that she was menstruating (which, according to one justice, made her like a "mentally deranged patient," "unable to control her impulses") (June). Hundreds of teen-age humans, admitted to the Buffalo (N.Y.) Zoo for free on Memorial Day, trashed the grounds and several exhibits, abused animals, vandalized toilets and set a fire (but all the zoo's nonhumans were reportedly well-behaved) (May). The Glasgow, Scotland, city council voted to give about $1,700 worth of computer equipment to each of 30 habitually truant schoolkids, in the hope that they'll begin studying at home (March).

Also, in the Last Month ...

Six people were injured (two seriously) as croquet players and softball players pummeled each other with mallets in a late-night brawl over which sport is more manly (Calgary, Alberta). After a homeowner allegedly reneged on payment, the owner of a wild-animal removal service brought back the raccoon he had taken from the property and put it back under the house (Grand Blanc Township, Mich.). A Catholic priest closed down his "Junior Professional Wrestling Association" Web site, which featured photos of teen-age boys in wrestling tights, allegedly a charitable fund-raising venture (Mont Clare, Pa.). The acting director of the Maryland Transit Administration decided she needed an indefinite leave of absence after the wheels fell off of a transit bus for the 17th time in nine months (Baltimore).

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