News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 9, 2002


-- "Hundreds" of young Chinese women and men have recently endured the painful-for-months "Ilizarov procedure" to gain a few inches in height to supposedly improve their social and professional status. According to a May New York Times dispatch, the $6,000 procedure involves breaking bones in the shins or thighs, then manually adjusting special leg braces four times a day that pull the bones slightly apart, then waiting until the bones grow back and fuse together (which usually takes about six months, plus a three-month recovery). Said one 33-year-old, 5-foot-tall woman (aiming for 5-4): "I'll have a better job, a better boyfriend, and eventually a better husband. It's a long-term investment."

-- In May, Great Britain's Home Office, deciding on the proper compensation for a man who served 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, ruled that he was entitled to about $1.1 million, but said he would have to reimburse the prison about $63,000 for 11 years' room and board. Said the outraged Michael O'Brien, 34, who had been freed by a Court of Appeal in 1999: "They don't charge guilty people for bed and board. They only charge innocent people."

Animal Rights Update

Germany's lower house of parliament voted in May to add "and animals" to its constitution's guarantee of protection for the dignity of humans. On the other hand, the director of Washington, D.C.,'s National Zoo denied The Washington Post a look at its animals' medical records in May in part to protect the animals' right of "privacy," a claim which stunned at least one animal-rights advocate. And a British ad agency came under fire in May for a cutesy commercial featuring a dog engaging (via trick photography) in X-rated undulations (supposedly imitating what he observed at a certain randy-young-singles' resort); critics said the dog in the ad was being held up to "ridicule and indignity."

Government in Action

-- What was described in a January Times of London story as an obscure panel of European Union bureaucrats (the Nomenclature sub-group of the Customs Code Committee) has been meeting in Brussels off and on for months now for the purpose of deciding the thorny question of how many lumps (20 percent to 30 percent) are permissible in a can of mushroom (or pasta) sauce before those foods are classified as "vegetables," which would be subject to much higher import taxes than "sauces." As of late May, there has been no announcement from the sub-group.

-- Among the most notable "pork barrel" projects in the FY 2002 federal budget, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, were: $273,000 for Blue Springs, Mo., to fight the incursion of "goth" culture among its young; $50,000 for San Luis Obispo, Calif., to remove gang members' tattoos; $450,000 to restore chimneys on Cumberland Island, Ga.; $240,000 for pecan research; $260,000 to explore asparagus technology; $200,000 to upgrade a kayak river course in Wausau, Wis.; and $600,000 to research the sex life of the South African ground squirrel.

-- According to a January report of the Department of Energy's inspector general, federal facilities in Tennessee and Ohio actually tested in all seriousness a procedure that was no more than a fancy dowsing device ("passive magnetic resonance anomaly mapping") worn on the wrist of an operator, who senses underground water, faults, buried objects and chemicals, via supposed changes in "magnetic fields." Apparently, no one at the facilities was skeptical even though the contractor said only one person in the world was "qualified" to operate the PMRAM, and he lives in the Ukraine.

-- Rodney Jones of Mendocino, Calif., was the victim of "identity theft" in 1999, facilitated by the Department of Motor Vehicles' issuing a duplicate license to the thief (who is black; Jones is white). Eventually, his records were restored, but his attempt to get DMV to pay for the inconvenience to him failed when a state appeals court ruled in April 2002 that DMV could not be held liable for issuing the bogus license. According to Jones, DMV has throughout refused to give him the name of the identity thief, citing applicants' "privacy" rights.

-- In November, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections carelessly failed to release a homeless man after charges against him were dropped because, according to The Washington Post, computer records were not updated. (He stayed in jail for five months.) And the same department, also according to the Post, mistakenly released a bank robber in March, then tracked him down at his mother's home by telephone and told him to report back to jail, but the department did not bother to send anyone to the home to get him. (He eventually returned on his own.)

People With Issues

James O. Riccardi III, 42, was charged with five misdemeanor counts by Higginsville, Mo., police in May in connection with bizarre phone calls to high school athletes in which the caller pretends to be a University of Missouri coach offering scholarships but then turns the conversation to the students' spanking their bare buttocks to show their dedication to college sports. The university said it has received 86 complaints about similar calls to student athletes throughout Kansas and Missouri. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch-AP, 5-26-02]

Least Competent Criminals

Justin Aragon, 19, was arrested in March in Albuquerque, N.M., and charged with roughing up his girlfriend and threatening to kill members of her family. According to police, his reign of terror came to an end in the incident when he collapsed and hit his head on a coffee table after informing the victim that he had laced her drink with a toxic substance but then had accidentally drunk it himself.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported several times on antisocial, and criminal, behavior in which the perpetrator commemorates his work in meticulous written detail. China News Service reported in May that Li Qingpu, 56, was sentenced to 20 years in prison following a trial in southern Hainan province for visiting prostitutes while he was supposed to be on duty as a government textile official. The evidence against him was from four file cabinets in his house, containing 95 diaries listing his sex partners by name, time and place, including lengthy descriptions of the women and what took place between them, plus fastidiously labeled pubic hair samples from 236 of them.

Our Civilization in Decline

A "mini-industry" has developed in which pregnant South Korean women plan U.S. vacations, apparently for the sole purpose of gaining automatic American citizenship for the babies, according to the Los Angeles Times (May). An armed Buddhist monk, complaining that he was harassed by police, rushed Thailand's parliament building firing his AK-47 (May). Two British tourists caused a furor among townspeople in Mombasa, Kenya, when they spent about $140 (about half the average monthly wage in Kenya) to save the life of an injured monitor lizard they had come across (May).

Also, in the Last Month ...

An intoxicated 55-year-old man ran his car into a ditch, then climbed back to the highway, where he was accidentally hit by another car, driven by his intoxicated 43-year-old wife (Canaseraga, N.Y.). A 26-year-old college student was diagnosed with repetitive strain injury from a year's worth of hoisting about 25 pints of beer a week at a tavern (Manchester, England). Surgeons reported that a 7-year-old girl who had half of her brain removed in 1998 now speaks Dutch and Turkish fluently (Rotterdam, Netherlands). Minutes after allegedly robbing a bank, a 39-year-old man was captured when police spotted him holding forth at a bar a few blocks away (Winfield, Ind.).

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