News of the Weird

Week of January 11, 2004

LEAD STORY

Derek Leroy McSmith of Forest City, Ga., has filed 10,618 formal open-records requests to local governments in the last eight months, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. Most were, he said, to satisfy his curiosity about how government works, but one day, he asked for 490 magazines and on another day, he checked out 100 books (and soon, according to the librarian, walked outside and dropped them into the return bin). Each request must be logged in and processed, and a Forest City clerk spends almost full-time on McSmith's work. Several officials said that after they locate his documents, he only glances at them (or, if there is a cost involved, declines the documents). A local First Amendment advocate said the situation was merely "one of the downsides of a free and open society."

News That Sounds Like a Joke

(1) In November, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., set a trap and arrested a 44-year-old man and his 22-year-old associate for having kidnapped a teenager earlier in the day and having sought a $20,000 ransom from his mother; the sting was set up after the men, for some reason, released their victim (who went straight home) but continued to demand the ransom. (2) According to a December Miami Herald story, the condition of museum-goers who grow faint or suffer anxiety attacks while viewing art (or viewing too much in a short time) has a name, Stendhal's syndrome, that, although rare, has been studied for almost 200 years.

Fetishes on Parade

Steve Danos, 24, was arrested as allegedly the man who had been sneaking into young women's apartments to watch them sleep and to snuggle with them (and, sometimes, to fold their laundry) (Baton Rouge, La., October). And Stephen P. Linnen, 33, an assistant to Republican legislators in the Ohio House, was indicted on 56 counts stemming from an 18-month spree in which a naked man jumps out from hiding and photographs startled women's reactions (Columbus, Ohio, November). And Japanese men's fetish for schoolgirls' used underwear is such a problem, concluded a civic panel, that shops that cater to them are proliferating, thus enticing more and more girls to become suppliers (Tokyo, October).

Compelling Explanations

-- Timothy Paul Kootenay, 43, jailed in Aspen, Colo., in November on a California warrant for probation violation, said he would fight extradition on the ground that he is a citizen of the notorious "Republic of Texas" and that, actually, Aspen and Vail are located on a sliver of land that is also part of the Texas nation. Kootenay's separatist colleagues (some of whom have taken up arms) believe that Texas was never legally annexed by the United States and is thus a sovereign nation that should respond only to international law.

-- In a deposition earlier this year as part of his divorce proceedings (and released in November), the president's brother, Neil Bush, admitted that he had had sex with several women while on business trips in Asia, but that he did not seek them out, insisting that they simply came to his door. Asked his ex-wife's lawyer, "Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her." Responded Bush, "It was very unusual."

-- In October in Hennepin County, Minn., Rafiq Abdul Mortland, 38, was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison as the man who habitually asked store clerks whom he robbed to also hand over some Rolaids. When asked by police why he did that, Mortland said it was to relieve the stress he got from committing robberies. [St. Louis Park Sun/Sailor, 10-15-03]

-- The parents of a teenage girl, who had inhaled nitrous oxide from "whippet" propulsion cartridges just before a car crash that left her with permanent brain damage, filed a lawsuit in Boca Raton, Fla., in December against the store that sold her the canisters. However, a store manager claimed that, even though his is a video store whose whippets are sold from an "adult" room, he believes that his customers are not inhalant-abusers but just people who want to make their own whipped cream.

The Latest Human Rights

-- In September, a government appeals board in Melbourne, Australia, changed its mind and ruled that organizers of a lesbian festival could not, after all, limit attendance to just those lesbians who were born female, because that discriminates against transsexual lesbians. The female-born organizers had said they needed to exclude ex-males in order to affirm their identity and "consolidate our culture."

-- Spain's Catalonian High Court ruled in November that the Barcelona construction company Perez Parellada Promotions had improperly fired a worker who admitted smoking marijuana on the job, finding that he only smoked during meal breaks and did not smoke enough to affect his work.

Least Competent Criminals

In November, Michael Patrick Mikitka, 35, was arrested and charged as the man who had held up six banks in one week in the Pittsburgh area, including one in which he had written the holdup note on a check issued to him when he opened his account. In the final robbery, at the PNC Bank in Wilkinsburg, he was on his way out the door when the security guard said that the teller needed to see him again, and as he walked back in, the doors locked, and the guard grabbed him. Pending trial, Mikitka was sent to drug rehabilitation, but he left the facility on Dec. 22 and was re-arrested the same day when he allegedly robbed the same National City bank that he had robbed twice during his November spree.

Update

When Dan White killed San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978, but argued successfully that he had diminished capacity because of a depression that was exemplified by eating too much junk food, the "Twinkie Defense" was born. In December 2003, U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow of South Dakota was convicted of manslaughter for causing a traffic fatality, despite a defense that he had diminished capacity due to low blood sugar from his diabetes. Presumably, then (though Janklow did not specifically say so), the accident, the death, and his conviction would never have happened if only he had eaten some Twinkies.

Alternate Universe

In November, a jury in Montgomery, Ala., ordered Exxon Mobil to pay the state $11.8 billion in punitive damages based on its conclusion that the company, having allegedly inflated its expenses, underpaid the state $63.6 million in natural gas royalties (a penalty of more than 18 times the state's alleged loss). Exxon Mobil said its expenses were legitimate, that it owed the state nothing, and that it would appeal. One juror said afterward that the fact that the Alabama government is in such dire financial straits and needs the money might have influenced his vote (though that was not legally proper).

Undignified Deaths

A 20-year-old woman died in a one-car collision in Bridgewater, Mass., in November; according to police, she lost control of her car while talking on a cell phone and crashed into the Cingular Wireless store on Route 106. And a 16-year-old student in Indianapolis was killed in November on his morning school bus ride when he stuck his head out of a window to see a dead raccoon in the road and was clipped by a tree.

Also, in the Last Month

A woman was summonsed for dangerous driving after she tied the child's seat carrying her 20-month-old infant to a backseat door to keep it from swinging open (Perth, Australia). About 50 inmates at a Portuguese prison refused to eat special Christmas lunches because the bread, usually freshly baked, was not, due to bakeries having closed early the day before (Belas, Portugal). Police said a 29-year-old woman ordered her 11-year-old daughter to help her shoplift clothing, including some items the woman later returned to the girl as Christmas presents (Fort Myers, Fla.).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

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

More like News of the Weird