News of the Weird

Week of September 7, 2003


Tensions are brewing in the family of Zell Kravinsky, 48, and his psychiatrist-wife, Emily, over what she believes is his excessive altruism, according to an August profile in The New York Times. Kravinsky is not just a passionate philanthropist (from his fortune in commercial real estate), but such a strict utilitarian that he says he would sacrifice his one good kidney (he's already donated the other one) if it were needed by someone doing more social good than he. "No one should have two kidneys," he says, "until everyone has one." He said he cannot value his own kids more than anyone else's, a point that has angered his parents and caused Emily to threaten divorce and two friends to abandon him.

People With Issues

A 31-year-old Philadelphia government employee's surgery is just a radical example of how obsessed some women are to wear excruciatingly painful, but fashionable, shoes, according to an August Wall Street Journal report. For about $10,000, the woman had one toe shortened and another straightened so that now she can wear today's ever-pointier, open-toed pumps. Among podiatrists' other remedies: narrowing of the nails; collagen injections to pad the soles of the feet; and a $225 "foot facial" scrub. But when a Moline, Ill., woman told her more traditional podiatrist that she needed corrective toe surgery, the doctor said, "No, you need different shoes."

More Things to Worry About

The New York Times reported that activists working to encourage organ donations deplored the recent shortage of superior young organs for transplant, in large part because murder and traffic fatality rates have come down (August). And Texas public schools raided the budget to buy state flags for every classroom in order to comply with this month's inauguration of required student pledges of allegiance to Texas (August). And one of the apparently most pressing needs in Varallo, Italy, was addressed when the city council began subsidizing half the cost of Viagra tablets for its residents (August).


-- Broward County, which was one of the "ground zeros" during Florida's 2000 presidential vote-counting problems, mistakenly failed 6,559 public middle-school students in June due to what it later called a computer error. A school official called the total count of students affected "a small number."

-- Single-engine pilot Michael Grumbine flew at barely tree-top level over La Serna High School in Whittier, Calif., in May, to drop anti-abortion leaflets to students (containing a hip reference to the then-hot movie "The Matrix: Reloaded"), but in mid-flight he accidentally stuck his hand into the propeller blades, severing two fingers and sending the plane into a fall, where it crash-landed, injuring Grumbine.

Thinking Outside the Box

-- Authorities in Phoenix decided to hold the city's loudest July 4 fireworks show this year adjacent to the complex that houses a Veterans Administration medical center and the state's military retirement home, even though some residents of the facilities still suffer battlefield-acquired post-traumatic stress disorders. (However, the facilities reported no adverse incidents.)

-- Sewage-treatment officials in Pittsburgh, wanting to lure crowds to a June showing of their new facilities, thought the best way to attract people was to offer them a picnic of free hamburgers and hot dogs to accompany the demonstration of state-of-the-art raw sewage disposal. (About 300 people attended.)

-- In March, the double life of wealthy Tampa construction magnate Douglas Cone, 74, began to surface when, following the death of his socialite wife, Jean Ann (with whom he lived Thursdays through Sundays and had three kids), he quickly married his socialite paramour Hillary Carlson (with whom he lived in a second mansion 20 miles away as Donald Carlson, Mondays through Wednesdays, and had two kids). Cone's money (donated in both his names, though "Mr. Carlson" never appeared in public) and the women's tireless community service made the "four" of them prominent figures in Tampa. (The consensus among families' members is that Hillary knew; Jean Ann might not have; and friends and associates did not.)

-- Wilbur Daniels, 67, faces sentencing in September in Washington, D.C., on his 2002 conviction for defrauding the Dupont Park Seventh-day Adventist Church of $1.3 million, which, as church treasurer, he might have taken in a sincere attempt to invest the church's money in what turned out to be a Nigerian Internet scam. Prosecutors said Daniels' earnestness was demonstrated by the fact that he also lost his own life savings in the deal.

Least Competent Criminals

An inmate tried to escape in August from the parking garage of the jail in St. Charles County, Mo., by dashing through a fire exit door; he seemed unaware that immediately beyond the door was a brick wall, and after the collision, he was taken to a hospital with head injuries. And in Tampa, Fla., in August, one man was arrested and several others sought in a labor-intensive burglary of a Sports Authority store; police estimate that the crew spent a week digging an elaborate 40-foot-long tunnel underneath the store, and once they finally surfaced inside, they apparently got only about $3,500 in athletic shoes and Tampa Bay Bucs jerseys before an early-arriving employee called police.

Our Civilization in Decline

-- The federal government settled with two prestigious Chicago hospitals in July (Northwestern University's, University of Chicago's) and filed a claim against another (University of Illinois'), on charges that the three improperly moved their own patients up the national organ-transplant priority list; one UI official allegedly told a doctor that favoring its own patients was "the Chicago way." And in August, the conviction of a Dallas bookstore manager became final, for selling obscenity in the form of adult science-fiction comic books; the sales were to adults in an adults-only section, but the prosecutor's main argument about the books's alleged "danger" was merely that comic books are an art form of general appeal to children.

Seniors Maneuvering Two-Ton Death Machines

In July, a Los Angeles Times reporter, citing "scientists and others who study the problem," wrote that as many as 10,000 auto collisions since 1985 have been caused by "unintended acceleration" (e.g., hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, accelerating in a mistaken gear). Recent news stories suggest this problem is particularly acute with (and perhaps even largely confined to) senior citizens. In July and August alone, at least nine seniors (aged 71 to 90) caused unintended-acceleration collisions in Florida, Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Illinois and Tennessee, in addition to the July Santa Monica, Calif., farmer's market incident in which an 86-year-old man killed 10 people because he was unable to move his foot to the brake while traveling nearly three blocks.


-- Tony Martin (introduced in News of the Weird in 1999) is one of Britain's most prominent criminals, sentenced to six years in prison for defending his property by shooting one burglar to death and wounding another. He was turned down for early parole in 2002, and also for a trial home visit in July, on the official ground that he continued to pose a threat to burglars. However, he was granted parole by statute in August and now must prepare to defend a civil suit by the surviving, limping burglar, Brendon Fearon, who claims the gunshot permanently disabled him. In August, London's Sun newspaper surreptitiously videotaped Fearon walking without a limp and effortlessly bicycling and climbing stairs.

And in the Last Month ...

A judge in North Platte, Neb., willingly accepted the defense of a 45-year-old inmate on work-release that the reason he had alcohol on his breath was that he had eaten a homemade burrito whose ingredients had been dipped in beer. And Jeremy Bamber, convicted years ago of killing five family members, filed a lawsuit against four surviving relatives for conspiring to deprive him of "his share" of the family estate (Wix, Essex, England). And the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board turned down the petition for asylum by a Venezuelan woman, who claimed she needed to stay in Canada because back home, she would be persecuted for being too fat.

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

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