News of the Weird

Week of November 23, 2003


-- For 23 years, Dennis Hope, 55, of Gardnerville, Nev., has operated a business selling people "official" title to land on the moon, Mars and Venus for about $20 an acre. Although others are in the same business, Hope told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in September that he has earned $6.5 million during that period (an average of $270,000 a year). He says his idea was based on something he actually learned in school: that the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibited nations from owning celestial bodies but was silent about individual ownership. Hope says he wrote to the United Nations, explained his plan, and asked if they had a problem with it (and no one wrote back).

Alternate Universe

While recent drastic budget cuts (and the governor's failure to get a tax increase from the legislature) have limited Alabama's Department of Public Safety to placing only five or six troopers on nighttime highway patrol for the entire state, as many as 17 troopers spend all day each Saturday during football season providing security for the state's 10 college teams. The schools agreed in principle to reimburse the troopers' expenses, according to an October Associated Press report, but their policies vary, and the Department has been lax in collecting.

Weird Science

-- Carl Hanson of St. Paul, Minn., actually obtained a U.S. patent (No. 6,457,474) in 2002 for what he described as a new method for treating heart-related chest pain (as reported in August 2003 by Scientific American). Hanson's unique invention: He drinks limeade from concentrate. His patent application said that it worked for him, and he wrote out the required details about the structure of the invention, specifically, to purchase cans of concentrate, add water, stir and introduce the juice into the body through the mouth (although Hanson wrote that his patent would also cover intravenous administration).

-- Researchers at Panasonic's Nanotechnology Research Laboratory near Kyoto, Japan, said in August that they have begun to generate electricity from blood, which they say may eventually yield enough power to produce a human "battery" to run various implanted devices, such as pacemakers. Power is produced by stripping blood glucose of its electrons.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- In September, the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, daily newspaper Al-Watan reported that the father of a prospective bride (whose future husband had not yet met her) had established a new dowry-collection strategy by demanding that the prospective husband pay the equivalent of US$300 just to take a pre-wedding glance at the bride (fully clothed, of course).

-- Among the themed funeral settings available for families recently at U.S. mortuaries (at $1,000 to $3,000) (according to a September Associated Press report): bales of hay, wagon wheels, cacti, a cowboy boot and a plastic horse (for the loved one who was rodeo-oriented, at the Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas), and "Big Mama's Kitchen," with Crisco, Wonder Bread and fried chicken (for the loved one who was a fan of lavish feasts).

Crises in the Workplace

-- In August, computer technician Goran Andervass received the equivalent of US$100,000 as settlement of his wrongful-firing lawsuit against Riksbanken, the Swedish national bank, over a 2001 incident that began when a colleague, meeting with him in his Stockholm office, ostentatiously passed gas. Andervass became very upset and started shouting at the man. Supervisors cautioned Andervass, who began a downward emotional spiral and began to take abundant sick leave, leading to further sanctions and eventually to his dismissal.

-- Among the 15 "worst" actual jobs in science (from the October issue of Popular Science): (15) counting fish (one by one, for hours) that swim by dams in the Pacific Northwest; (11) the only two government bureaucrats whose job is to convince Americans of the merits of the metric system; (7) researchers who reach into a cow's rumen to pull out and analyze the stomach contents; (4) mosquito catchers who endure up to 15 bites a minute on three-hour shifts and hope not to get malaria; (3) researchers who extract sperm from animals for study or artificial insemination (and extracting from a pig is much preferable to extracting from a bull); and (1) "flatus odor judges" working for gastroenterologist Michael Levitt, who feeds subjects pinto beans, then gathers gases in plastic collection tubes direct from the source, and then has judges sniff as many as 100 samples, rating them for strength.

Least Competent Criminals

Cyril Kendall was easily convicted in August in New York City for swindling the American Red Cross and another organization out of $160,000 for family grief counseling over a "son" who "died" in the World Trade Center attack. There are no official records that the son ever existed, although Kendall presented some documents that government experts termed poor forgeries. The grief counseling ($425 an hour) was spent entirely at a "company" that did not exist but of which Kendall admitted that he was the sole employee (thus paying himself to counsel himself and his family).

In the End, Clear on the Concept

In September, a committee of Milwaukee's city council approved the application of a strip joint (Club Paradise Gentlemen's Club) to also become a "center for visual and performing arts" (the same designation as the Milwaukee Art Museum) by the simple act of placing several pieces of upscale artwork on its walls. Such a classification would allow liberalization of the club's alcohol permit. (However, by the time the matter came to the full council, the public had heard about it, and the club withdrew the application.)

Recurring Themes

Daniel Smith, 45, written up for traffic violations after a minor accident in Independence, Mo., in November, became the latest person to take seriously the idea that he could assert a "copyright" over his name and expect the police (i.e., the taxpayers) to pay him $500,000 per use for writing his name on the traffic tickets (plus $1 million as a late fee if the government didn't pay in 10 days). Smith refused to take his license back from the officer until he was issued a "receipt," which he pointed out earned him another $500,000.

The Perpetual Campaign to Make Everyone Perfect

The Moscow State Circus, touring Britain in July, told reporters its insurance companies had instructed trapeze artists to wear hard hats during their performances, to comply with European Union safety rules. And Beaufort County, S.C., adopted a policy in August that, for two-semester high school courses, a student who fails the first semester would automatically receive an encouraging "62," no matter how low his actual score.

Compelling Explanations

The unsuccessful explanation Michael Schoop, 53, gave the judge for having child pornography on his computer was that he inadvertently downloaded the images while searching the Internet for asparagus recipes (Oakland, Calif., October). And the explanation of the mother of a Brainerd (Minn.) High School cheerleader (who was suspended for allegedly offering $50 to have another cheerleader beaten up): "They don't like each other. (The other girl) is a snot, and my daughter can be a snot, too" (October).

Also, in the Last Month

Lawyer Christian Gauthier was referred for disciplinary investigation because, while defending a client accused of killing a police officer, he was overheard singing the Bob Marley song "I Shot the Sheriff" during a courtroom break (Montreal, Quebec). A 15-year-old burglary suspect in lockup was also charged with theft for ordering $42 worth of adult movies on the jail's cable television hookup (Woodstock, Ill.). The eventual winner of the race for president of the Marietta, Ohio, City Council was arrested on the morning of the election on a misdemeanor delinquent-taxes warrant.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or or go to

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

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