News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JULY 7, 2002


-- About 2,500 festive marchers turned out for Jerusalem's first gay pride day in June, including a few Palestinians. And according to reports in The New York Times, The Times of London and The Scotsman, U.S. and British troops fighting in Afghanistan have been hit on by that country's apparently numerous (and decreasingly closeted) gay farmers. (Afghan men's brazenly taking boy lovers was a major impetus for the Taliban to take power in 1994, and press reports say that practice is slowly re-emerging.)

-- In June in Rotherham, England, Gaak the robot, who is part of a research project into equipping robots to think for themselves, escaped from the lab while it was momentarily unattended and made it as far as the parking lot of the Magna science center before being stopped by a visitor's car. It had forced its way out of a small pen used to house units scheduled for repair. Said Professor Noel Sharkey, "(The robots) have all learned a significant amount and are becoming more intelligent by the day."

The Only Clever Criminals

Smugglers With Bright Ideas: A woman's snakeskin "belt" was confiscated by airport customs officials when they realized it was an actual snake (exotic and endangered, yet harmless, which had been sedated by chilling but which had heated up) (Glasgow, Scotland, February). Authorities in Chicago and Orlando recently confiscated shirts from Thailand and Colombia, respectively, that had been "starched" with heroin and which would later be chemically soaked to extract the drug. And since Sept. 11, Customs officials say drug cartels' Mexico-to-U.S. tunneling activity has increased, with five new tunnels recently raided, including one that ended near the parking lot of the Customs office in Nogales, Ariz.

Can't Possibly Be True

-- In June, the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, awarded Damien Keller, 31, the equivalent of $313,000 (U.S.) for injuries he suffered while robbing a taxi driver at knifepoint in 1994. Although the driver had fled the robbery, Keller chased him until the cornered driver was forced to hit Keller with a stick and punch him in the face. Keller suffered brain damage because, he said, the police and ambulance service did not treat him speedily enough.

-- On May 6, a 32-year-old woman apparently attempting suicide plunged 14 stories from a window at the Four Ambassadors condominium in Miami, but walked away with only a broken arm when she landed on the roof of a late-model Honda. She had been hospitalized three days earlier after taking an overdose of pills.

-- Russ and Sandy Asbury of Whitewater, Wis., told an Associated Press reporter in February that their two cats, Boots and Bandit, now each 2 years old, have driven up the couple's water bill recently because they have learned to flush toilets. Said Russ, "We have to shut the bathroom door when we go to bed. Otherwise one or the other of the cats are in there flushing away all night."

-- Robert Daniel Irving was cleared in May to receive the equivalent of $28,500 (U.S.) in standard spousal death benefits from the Manitoba (Canada) Public Insurance fund. There had been speculation that he would be denied the award in that the way his 22-year-old wife died was as a passenger in Irving's car when he crashed while drunk-driving. Irving pleaded guilty to impaired driving, but the Manitoba agency said the plea was irrelevant to his eligibility for benefits.

-- The Agence France-Presse news service reported in April that a severely disabled boy (believed to be about age 7) had been taken in by a children's home in Kano, Nigeria, in 1996 after having been abandoned by his nomadic parents and raised with chimpanzees for 18 months. The nursing staff at the Tudun Maliki Torrey home said the kid now no longer drags his hands on the ground as he walks but still often springs at people and makes chimplike noises. The nomadic Fulani people of Nigeria have been known to reject disabled children as too difficult to travel with.

People Different From Us

The Doctors Were Wrong: Apparently angry because local doctors kept telling him nothing was wrong with him, Shawn Eric Bird, 40, allegedly mailed more than 100 envelopes containing notes with childlike insults and smeared cat feces and urine to medical offices and other establishments around Belleville, Ontario, before being arrested in May. Police finally caught him when Bird (referring to himself as the "Spiderman" character, the Green Goblin) called a station house to chide them for incompetence, and officers surmised from the background noise where Bird was calling from.

Least Competent Criminals

Edward Brewer, 47, serving a 10-year sentence for raping a cerebral palsy patient in a Sandusky, Ohio, hospital, sued the hospital for $2 million in May, claiming that his own predicament came about because the hospital did not protect its patients well enough. For some reason, Brewer also sued his attorney, who had recommended he take a plea bargain in the 1999 case, which got Brewer a five-year sentence; an angry Brewer had then appealed that plea bargain, blaming his lawyer for it, but then on retrial, Brewer was convicted and sentenced to his current 10-year term.


A year ago, News of the Weird reported that a library's resident cat had attacked Richard R. Espinosa's assistance dog, whose injuries have so discomforted Espinosa that he believes he needs $1.5 million to recover from the stress (i.e., his "terror, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, mortification, chagrin, depression, panic, anxiety, flashbacks (and) nightmares"). In April 2002, Espinosa amended his complaint (which is against the city of Escondido, Calif.) to take account that, with his disability, he is in a law-protected class and thus that the cat's actions should be considered a "hate crime" attributable to the library.

Our Civilization in Decline

-- At least 10 people were killed after steady rains waterlogged and toppled a huge mountain of garbage (tens of thousands of square meters' worth) piled adjacent to a workers' dormitory (Shandong, China). Because of police department budget cuts in Argentina's miserable recession, residents of Junin (population 93,000) have been lending their cars, gassed up at their own expense, for officers' patrolling (May). No brewed coffee could be sold in Berkeley, Calif., unless it came from "organic, shade-grown" (or "Fair-Trade-certified") beans, according to a 2002 voter initiative advanced by 35-year-old lawyer Rick Young (June).

Also, in the Last Month ...

-- A jury concluded that Suzanne Vasquez's epilepsy was not caused by the 13-pound Wal-Mart ham that allegedly fell on her head from over the meat cooler while she looked up to check its price (Bradenton, Fla.). Canadian officials said they could not find a crime to charge a man with after catching him selling "upskirt" videos, in that the female victims could not be identified by just their legs (Toronto). An Australian National University research team succeeded in teleporting (disassembling, then re-assembling) a several-billion-proton laser containing a radio message a distance of about one meter (Canberra). Desperate after a prolonged drought and heat wave, Indian villagers performed a "marriage" of two donkeys in an ancient Hindu ritual to appease the god of rain (Sakkayanayakanur, India).

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