News of the Weird

Week of September 15, 2002

LEAD STORIES

-- The 60,000 delegates (from 182 countries) to the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, luxuriated not only in four- and five-star accommodations but an elegant food and drink layout, including tons of lobster, oysters, filet mignon, salmon, caviar, pate de foie gras, champagne, fine wines and mineral water. (An estimated 60 African children a day die from contaminated water.) The conference center (which cleared out hundreds of nearby trees to accommodate delegates' limousines) is only a few miles from the squalid neighborhood of Alexandra, one of Africa's poorest. (Poverty in Africa is up 35 percent since the last such summit, in 1992.)

-- In San Francisco, two adult dodgeball leagues have been formed recently (the San Francisco Bombardment Society and the S.F. Blood Warriors), with rules similar to the kids' playground game. According to one organizer, the game "is a nice way of pegging people in the face (with the soft rubber ball) and getting away with it." And, he said, "Certain things never change. Some people look like they're going to get hit, so you go after (them)."

Cliches Come to Life

Sophia Reitan fell and broke her arm when a Pentecostal Upper Room Tabernacle minister pushed the evil spirits from her forehead, and no one caught her when she swooned backward; she settled with the church for $80,000 (Dix Hills, N.Y., February). And even though Clarence Cromwell, 29, fully confessed to police that he had killed a man, a judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., set him free because officers forgot to read him his Miranda rights (May). And according to a police report in the Hesperia (Calif.) Star: "An elderly man who lived on the 10700 block of 'G' Avenue suffered a heart attack while engaged in sexual intercourse and died April 2."

Our Animal Friends

-- Researchers at England's Cambridge University, and others in Tallahassee, Fla., and Cleveland, are training dogs to screen patients for prostate and lung cancers by detecting distinct smells of tumors in patients' breath. One researcher reported a success rate of 87 percent, which rivals that of some expensive technology. (The genesis of the research was a 1989 journal article reporting that a border collie attacked a woman's mole that turned out to be a malignant melanoma and ignored her after the mole was removed.)

-- Among Recent Animals in the News: the Asian paradise tree snake, which actually flies (by thrusting itself from high places, flattening out and undulating its body) (reported in Singapore in August), and a species of millipede from the West Indies, which, when zoo-dwelling capuchin and owl monkeys rubbed them on their fur, caused the monkeys to go into a delirious frenzy (an "ancient primate form of hallucinogen," according to one millipede expert), similar to the way cats react to catnip (August).

-- Supposedly Lower Orders of Animals: Recently, the journal Science reported that chimpanzees in West Africa have learned to smack certain nuts with specially chosen stones at precisely the correct strength that will break open the delicate shell without obliterating the food inside (June), and that crows have been observed bending discarded wires in just the right configuration for use in retrieving food from hard-ro-reach places (August).

-- In a three-month period this summer, three 5-foot-long sturgeons have jumped from Florida rivers directly onto anglers, sending them to hospitals with injuries (all together: a cracked sternum, five broken ribs, two collapsed lungs, several broken teeth and various lacerations). According to a wildlife expert, sturgeons are docile, have no predators, and apparently jump only "because they can."

People Not Paying Attention to the News

An apparently harmless passenger (college student Maxim Segalov) forced an unscheduled landing of an American Airlines flight in Salt Lake City (and his subsequent ejection) when he alarmed the crew by trying to recharge a size-AA battery by heating it with his cigarette-lighter (August). And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in July that a passenger was detained at St. Louis' Lambert Field because for some reason he had packed in his checked luggage (which happened to be chosen for random inspection) his cute, personal alarm clock, which is an old-fashioned clock outfitted with six toy sticks of dynamite.

Smooth Reactions

-- Loxley, Ala., street preacher Orlando Bethel, who was scheduled to sing at the June funeral of his wife's uncle, was beaten by parishioners and physically tossed from the Pine Grove Baptist Church after he screamed from the pulpit that the deceased was a "drunkard" and a "fornicator" and was now "burning in Hell" and that the parishioners would be right behind him. Bethel defended his outburst by claiming that the "Holy Ghost" had ordered him to tell the truth.

-- Among the problem motorists cited in a July Toronto Star roundup: (1) a 26-year-old man who gave the finger to an only-trying-to-help driver who had motioned for him to fasten his seat belt (but the Samaritan was a police officer in an unmarked car, and he took umbrage, stopped the man, and discovered his license has been under suspension since 1999), and (2) a middle-aged man who was let off with a warning for swerving across the road because his dog was licking his ear (and who, the officer discovered, was also shoeless, with banana peels wrapped around his feet, supposedly a remedy for bunions).

Perversions on Parade

DNA was used to convict a man for bestiality after two dogs were found dressed in women's underwear in his garage (Winnipeg, Manitoba, July). A 34-year-old man was sentenced to a year in prison for three counts of approaching women in a supermarket, bending down and aggressively licking their feet (Woonsocket, R.I., July). A man accused a couple of restraining him at their home and forcing him to ejaculate while the couple looked on (Cape Town, South Africa, August).

Undignified Deaths

A 25-year-old man was shot and killed by a friend as the two were acting out their favorite scenes from movies; the dead man was said to have been portraying Al Pacino (Melbourne, Australia, July). A 19-year-old worker at the Kargher candy factory suffocated when he accidentally fell into a 1,200-gallon vat of chocolate (Hatfield, Pa., July). A 47-year-old man stumbled as he was removing his trousers for bed and fell out a second-story window in his home, landing fatally on his head (Aptos, Calif., July).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A half-ton bull broke loose from his handler at a show and battered a portable toilet that a 51-year-old woman had just entered, but she was not seriously hurt (Dorset, England). Anglers off of Florida's east coast encountered a floating, severed human head and turned it in to authorities several hours later after they finished their outing (Fort Pierce, Fla.). Doctors examining rugby star Jamie Ainscough's lingering arm injury finally located the problem: Opponent Martin Gleeson's tooth was found embedded in Ainscough's arm, from a July match (London). Firefighters acknowledged a particularly pesky fire, which burned for more than 50 hours before being extinguished, at a Kingsford Charcoal plant (Pulaski County, Ky.).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Newsweird@aol.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird