News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 30, 2002


-- Uncontrolled crime (eight times the murder rate of New York City) and a huge wealth disparity (most people either fabulously rich or appallingly poor, with few in the middle) have caused the 1 million wealthiest residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil, to protect themselves by living in 300 gated communities (and have caused some to avoid the city's crime and squalor by traveling exclusively by helicopter), according to a June Washington Post dispatch. About 4,000 people a year without helicopter access armor-plate their cars at twice the price of the car. One walled community (Alphaville) houses 30,000 people, protected by 1,100 armed guards who keep the grounds under constant surveillance and pat down the servants as they head home from work.

-- Israeli police announced in June that they were investigating reports that a syndicate in a town just north of Gaza was running daily betting pools on the site of the next suicide bombing, with odds ranging from 17-1 in the peaceful town of Eilat to 3-2 in Jerusalem. The syndicate's alleged betting cards limit the action to attacks by Arabs on Jews.

Kids Growing Up Too Fast

A 12-year-old girl was arrested on charges that she coerced younger girls into prostitution in one of several local cases involving adolescent "pimps" (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; April). Jimmy Kave, 75, was charged with 16 sex-related counts for impregnating an 11-year-old girl (although he claimed the girl initiated the whole thing) (Bridgeport, Conn.; April). New Scientist magazine reported in April that a retired U.S. Army researcher's study had found that adolescent African-American girls are reaching puberty as young as age 8 because of the excessive hormones in shampoos marketed specifically for blacks (such as B&B Super Gro).

Silver-Tongued Devils

-- Lawyer Steven Wise, promoting his book "Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights," told an audience at a Washington, D.C., bookstore in June: "I don't see a difference between a chimpanzee and my 4 1/2-year-old son (based on the fact that 98.7 percent of their respective DNA is the same)." (The boy, Christopher, was not available for comment.)

-- Deputy Secretary of Labor D. Cameron Findlay, complaining to a State Department official in March (according to The Washington Post) that the government often ignores the statute requiring it to help American workers who have been harmed by world trade: "(The Trade Adjustment Assistance statute) is treated like a teen-age girl in the backseat of a car. You promise her anything to get what you want. And then when you get it, you leave her."

-- Among recent comments accompanying the confessions of criminals: Jermarr Arnold, in an interview shortly before his January execution in Huntsville, Texas, explaining his record of two murders and two dozen rapes, said: "Sometimes I feel paranoid and threatened, and I (lash) out. I'm not very good with people." And Pattaya, Thailand, police Sgt. Major Charchai Suksiri, 50, explaining why his wife of 25 years was still alive after he fired several shots at her and then several more later the same day in her hospital room: "Luckily, I ran out of bullets before (she could die)." And in April, Darnell C. Smith, moments after being sentenced to life in prison for murder in Minneapolis, told the victim's relatives, "I know I'm a piece of (expletive not reported by the local newspaper). I have been all my life."

Injudicious Judges

-- In May, Tampa, Fla., judge Richard Nielsen, apparently impatient that a 16-year-old burglary convict had not acquired an attorney for his hearing on restitution to the victim, ordered the boy to proceed anyway, to call witnesses and introduce evidence, even though the boy did not know what "restitution" meant and thought at first that the prosecutor was there to help him. (Florida law requires attorneys for all juveniles.) A few minutes later, Nielsen ejected the boy's mother from the courtroom because she would not stop giving the boy advice. (Nielsen's behavior might not have come to light had not a St. Petersburg Times reporter happened into the courtroom by chance.)

-- A U.S. Court of Appeals panel agreed with a lower court in December that a Missouri county judge had unconstitutionally denied defendant Gary Moore the right to converse with his attorney during his burglary trial (having ordered the two to communicate only by passing notes back and forth, which was difficult for Moore, who has problems with the written language). The St. Louis County judge, Philip Sweeney, had said at the time, "(T)here's very little that needs to be discussed during a trial."

Least Competent Criminals

Louis Papakostas, 35, was sentenced to eight years in prison on drug charges in Corpus Christi, Texas, in May. He had been convicted in 1987 and had gone on the lam for nearly 15 years, but he ran into his prosecutor at a restaurant in May and decided to say a nostalgic hello, apparently believing that authorities were not interested in him anymore. Papakostas even had to jog the prosecutor's memory, but once that was done, the prosecutor notified police.

Latest Cat News

Correctional Service of Canada was recently rethinking its policy of permitting inmates to keep cats in their cells in two British Columbia prisons after guards complained of dirty litter boxes during prisoner shakedowns and after several drug-sniffing dogs in the facility had gotten hurt tangling with the cats (Mission, B.C.; May). And a previously docile Siamese cat went nuts and mauled a family of four and its baby sitter over several hours, repeatedly launching itself at family members and clawing them bloody, until police subdued it (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; May). And to deal with a flood of mice in the British Parliament, a motion was introduced in June "to invest in a House of Commons cat to try to tackle this problem."

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in 2000 that New York doctoral student Erik Sprague was part-way through surgically making his body lizard-like (sharper teeth and forked tongue, and with implanted forehead bumps and scale-like skin soon to come). In June 2002, the Michigan House of Representatives considered banning tongue-forking surgery, but by 53-43 decided such bodily transformations were none of the government's business. (The issue had come to light when Bay City, Mich., tattoo artist Seth Griffin began publicly seeking a surgeon for his tongue-separation surgery after once performing it on himself only to see the tongue eventually fuse back together.)

Our Civilization in Decline

The U.N. World Food Summit, devoted to helping the 800 million people starving worldwide, opened in Rome with a luncheon of lobster, foie gras and goose stuffed with olives for the 3,000 limousine-using delegates (June). Officials at California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory decided that their brand-new, $62 million storage facility for low-level radioactive waste was not secure enough from terrorists and that until modifications were made, the waste would continue to be stored outside, underneath a tent (May). The principal of Franklin Elementary School (Santa Monica, Calif.) banned the game Tag at lunchtime, in part because, she wrote, whoever is "it" is a "victim," "which creates a self-esteem issue" (May).

Also, in the Last Month ...

Opponents of a planned prison near Kaikohe, New Zealand, petitioned the High Court to halt construction because officials had not considered the environmental impact of "taniwha" (folkloric monsters in the area). A beekeeper was called to rid a house of thousands of bees from 12 honeycombs that had been built between the walls of the house (Kansas City, Mo.). The deputy director of Child Support Enforcement for the District of Columbia was sued by his own office for foot-dragging on support for his own 20-year-old, born-out-of-wedlock son. McDonald's began test-marketing a breakfast meal of egg, rice and Spam at its restaurants in Hawaii (where Spam is a highly revered food).

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