News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF DECEMBER 19, 2004

LEAD STORY

"Freegans" are non-homeless Dumpster divers with a political or at least philosophical commitment not to waste perfectly usable discarded goods, including food, according to reports in Newsday (September) and the Houston Press (November). Most are driven by a belief that too many Americans have a fetishized view of newness, pointing out that restaurants discard much unspoiled food simply because they need to sell even fresher food. (Freegans don't eat table scraps.) Still, many restaurants elaborately protect their garbage from "Dumpstering" foragers, with locks and razor wire or by coating it with bleach. (Not usually counted as freegans are less-philosophical people who obsessively explore trash piles to carry away anything potentially useful.)

Things People Believe

(1) Using parts she bought from the estate of a laser-tech engineer, Julie "Jitterbug" Pearce, 23, built a UFO-attracting device for the roof of her home in Duluth, Minn., and told the Duluth News Tribune in August that her machine's triangularly patterned strobe light design, looped radio transmissions, and laser light refracted through a quartz crystal may help signal aliens in the area. (2) In Johannesburg, South Africa, student John Smit, 18, caused a minor curriculum crisis when he willingly took a 30-point deduction on an important English exam because he could not bear to deal with a reading-comprehension question based on a passage from a Harry Potter book, which Smit regards as "witchcraft."

Fine Points of the Law

(1) Australia's High Court ruled in October that convicted drug dealer Francesco Dominico La Rosa could indeed write off a casualty loss of A$224,793 (about US$168,000) against his taxable income, even though the "loss" occurred when someone allegedly stole that amount that La Rosa had buried in his back yard and wanted to use for a heroin deal. (The Australian Tax Office went nuts at the ruling, and efforts are under way to change the law.) (2) Also in October, the federal appeals court in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit against the Navy, filed in the name of marine mammals, claiming that naval sonar disrupted their underwater communication; the court said federal environmental laws can be challenged only by people (or legal entities), not whales.

Chess Glandmaster

Controversial former chess champion Bobby Fischer, who fled to Japan to avoid U.S. visa-violation charges, and who is smarting from a recent Time magazine description of him as something less than a babe magnet, defended his virility to a Mainichi Daily News reporter in October by pointing out that he wears "size 14 wide shoes. Just keep that in mind when (they) say I'm not a dreamboat." After recounting an episode at a hot spring nude bath in Japan in which two fellow customers seemed in awe of his "size," Fischer then accused Americans of having persuaded Japanese authorities to lock him up in a facility close to a nuclear plant so that the U.S. government can "make me impotent."

Compelling Explanations

-- Chutzpah: John Michael Dunton's infant daughter died in September when Dunton accidentally left her in his minivan, having forgotten to drop her off at the baby sitter's before work. However, upon learning that no criminal charges would be filed against him, Dunton appeared at a press conference, boasting that a jury would have acquitted him, anyway, and then imploring automakers to invent something to keep parents from forgetting about their kids.

-- Antoinette Millard, 40, filed a lawsuit against American Express in November to cancel her credit card charges, blaming the company for her $950,000 shopping spree at New York City's priciest stores (in that AmEx imprudently issued her its prestigious black Centurion Card). Millard, who recently portrayed herself as "Princess Antoinette" of a Saudi royal family and as a former Victoria's Secret model, said she suffered from "anorexia, depression, panic attacks (and) head tumors," which made her such an impulsive, frenzied shopper that she just couldn't stop spending. (According to prosecutors, Millard is a divorced woman from Buffalo who was working in an office in Manhattan.)

-- According to a transcript obtained by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in September, convicted rapist John Horace, 60, was turned down by the New York Parole Board after offering a new excuse for his crime (which was committed against a nursing home resident in a near coma). Horace, then an aide at the home, said he had read in a medical book somewhere that the sensation of pregnancy would snap a woman out of a coma and that he was thus only trying to help.

-- In a September issue of the London Review of Books, trendy Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zisek made the point that the essential ideological differences in German, French and British-American societies, as noted by G.W.F. Hegel and others, can be represented by their countries' respective toilet designs. The German toilet's evacuation hole is in the front, facilitating "inspection and analysis," but the French design places the hole in the rear, so that waste disappears quickly. The British-American toilet allows floatation, which of course signals that society's "utilitarian pragmatism." Zisek described his theory as an "excremental correlative-counterpoint" to a framework identified with French philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss.

Creme de la Weird

-- In a June lawsuit in Albany, N.Y., Mark Hogarth, 45, asked a court to protect his constitutional right to privacy by exempting him from child-pornography laws so that he can reclaim 269 lewd photos of himself, taken when he was a kid, but which his now-deceased father had hidden away in another country. In his petition, he said that his father approved of, but did not participate in, the photo sessions (some of which featured other children) and that Hogarth would like to keep the pictures as, basically, mementos of his childhood.

Least Competent Criminals

Jason Rodd, clocked at 90 mph on Interstate 91 near St. Johnsbury, Vt., in November, tried to evade police by the clever ploy of pulling off the highway, dousing his headlights, and turning in to a farmer's field for cover. However, unable to see very well without lights, he promptly drove into a manure pit, immobilizing his car, and was tracked down a few minutes later.

Recurring Themes

Six weeks ago, News of the Weird reported on two New Hampshire mothers who had been arrested for viciously assaulting their own children over rather petty provocations. Later, in November, came Nicole Mancini, 29, who was arrested in Rochester, New Hampshire, after she, wearing pajamas, walked into the St. Mary's Church with her three children and was overheard mumbling about the need to "sacrifice" the kids on the "altar" "before 3 o'clock." After charging her with three counts of child endangerment, a police lieutenant said, "Eighteen years I've been doing this, and I've never come across anything like it."

Readers' Choice

In Kent, Wash., in November, a 24-year-old man, whose reasons will probably never be known, tried to heat his lava lamp on a stove; he was killed when the lamp exploded and propelled a piece of glass into his heart. And on Thanksgiving day in Worcester, Mass., Frank Palacios, 24, apparently got tired of being criticized for picking at the turkey with his fingers and stabbed his cousin and his uncle, sending both to the hospital.

Signs

Among the latest "miracles": a fiberglass statue of Jesus, which washed up on a sandbar on the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass, Texas, and which has now drawn thousands of worshippers (September); an inflated balloon with a rubber smudge in the image of the Virgin Mary, decorating the car lot of Payne Weslaco Motors, Weslaco, Texas (giving at least one worker there "chills") (August); and the spontaneous falling over of the statue of the Virgin Mary at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, which was taken to be a holy signal that the church, which had been scheduled for closing by the Boston Archdiocese, should remain open (October).

(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