News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MAY 30, 2004


New Frontiers in Charity Fund-Raising: Norwegian activists Tommy Hol Ellingsen and his girlfriend, seeking new funding sources for the environmental movement, created a Web site earlier this year that charges visitors about US$15 a month to view pornographic photos of the couple, with all profits to benefit environmental organizations (although some were reported ethically reluctant to accept their money). And in January, a 33-year-old British woman, "Vix," who has multiple sclerosis, created a Web site featuring topless photos of herself and asking visitors to donate to the UK's MS Resource Centre. (Business is slow on both sites: As of April, Ellingsen reported only 200 visitor-months, and Vix had raised the equivalent of US$6,000 from about 100 of the site's 125,000 visitors.)


In 1990, News of the Weird reported on a World War II "cargo cult" on Tanna, one of the 83 islands comprising the republic of Vanuatu (located between Papua New Guinea and Fiji). (Such cults are known for regarding as magical the food and supplies that Americans brought to military staging areas on the islands, and they continued to pray for more "cargo" for decades after Americans left.) In May, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, violence broke out on Tanna when Christian breakaways, calling the cargo business nonsense, fought with supporters of "John Frum," the iconic American whom the cultists worship. About 25 people were hospitalized, according to police dispatched from Vanuatu's capital of Vila.


According to police in Atlanta in January, Nathaniel Lee Stanley, 20, just released from jail, walked out and immediately carjacked a woman in the jail's parking lot (and was later returned to jail). And Ms. Kelly J. Handy, 37, who posted bond on burglary charges in Wheat Ridge, Colo., in March, picked up the wig and clothing that had been taken from her on her arrest, then went into a restroom, created a new look, and, according to police, immediately began stealing from residential mailboxes near the jail.

The Litigious Society

-- Richard Timmons' $80 million police brutality lawsuit went to trial in April in New York City, with Timmons acting as his own lawyer to persuade a jury that he deserved to be a rich man because he was "beat(en) continuously" during his 1997 arrest. The jury turned him down after a quick deliberation, perhaps in part because his crime (for which he was convicted) was a triple murder that included the beheading of his wife and 7-year-old son.

-- Not My Fault: Chef Michael McCarthy, 21, with about a year's experience in the kitchen of the Dalmunzie Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland, filed a lawsuit for the equivalent of US$42,000 against the hotel in January because he had badly cut his finger while slicing open an avocado. He said no one had taught him that unripened avocados were harder to cut than ripened ones.

-- After praising lawyer Brian Puricelli's courtroom work in winning a case for a client against the city of Philadelphia, federal Judge Jacob Hart cut Puricelli's loser-paid legal fees by $32,000 because his written work was sloppy, citing missing pages, missing paragraphs, and a huge number of typos (such as repeatedly referring to the court as representing the "Easter District" of Pennsylvania). Further, Puricelli's work apparently did not improve during the trial despite numerous admonishings; in a key, three-sentence paragraph in his response to Hart's fee-cutting decision, Puricelli wrote four more typos and addressed his objection to Judge "Jacon" Hart.

Recent Alarming Headlines

(1) "Trio Arrested for Breaking in and Performing Dental Work" (a December story in the Alexandria, La., Town Talk, about two people trying to help a friend who had lost part of a filling one night and couldn't wait until the dentist's office opened). (2) "Jail Teaches Prisoners to Shoot" (an April story in The West Australian, revealing that the Eastern Goldfields prison allows Aboriginal inmates to shoot air rifles because, upon release, they will return to a life of hunting animals for food).


Among the beach attractions on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten: bracing oneself in the sand at the beach at the end of the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport and trying to remain upright as airliners take off. (Jumbo jets' blasts have been known to topple vans.) A March Chicago Tribune dispatch described the giddiness of several tourists (who defied posted warnings), one of whom was "tossed in the air like a human shot put." Said another man, slowly pulling himself to his feet after a take-off, "I couldn't resist. (My wife and I) are both doing things we'd never do (back home) in Ohio."

Least Competent Criminals

Another Cardinal Rule Broken (the one about keeping a low profile): John Parker and Rick Owens were arrested in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Athens, Texas, in April, after they were allegedly spotted by several people sitting in their car carefully cutting out individual counterfeit bills from larger sheets they had just printed. And Dennett Colescott, 41, was arrested at a drugstore in Corte Madera, Calif., in April after an employee reported to police that Colescott was standing at the store's photo printer, calmly copying child pornography.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in 1998 on the emerging Hollywood trademark battle between the creators of TV's "Ren & Stimpy" and "South Park" over who had original rights to a cartoon character who was an animated piece of excrement (John Kricfalusi's "Nutty the Friendly Dump" or South Park's "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo"). In April 2004, a South Korean company announced it was planning a major U.S. media launch of a short, philosophical children's film with the clay-animation character "Doggy Poo" (who, in one scene, asks a guru, "What am I good for?" and receives the answer, "God has not created you for no reason. He must have a good plan for you").

The District of Calamity (continued)

School System Accountability: The principal of one of Washington, D.C.'s, roughest-neighborhood elementary schools was revealed in late 2003 to have obtained her doctorate degree from a diploma mill, but her school system supervisors decided in April to impose no punishment (except to drop her salary to what master's-degree principals get). Also in April, the school system declined to punish the 110 employees it identified who had vastly and improperly overspent using D.C. government credit cards, pointing out that investigators had no evidence of "personal gain" from the uses (but then admitting that their investigation stopped short of looking for such personal gain).

More Things to Worry About

According to a February Reuters report, 15 hooded men were very apologetic while they robbed the priests of a Catholic monastery near Guaratingueta, Brazil, of the equivalent of US$6,200, but one of the crooks forced a priest to swear on a Bible that that was all the money they had. And officials of Canada's Algonquin Nation recently convinced the distributors of a popular, Arab-written, U.S. and Canadian high school student guide to Arab history to drop a passage on how Muslim explorers beat Christopher Columbus to North America and how "Algonquin Muslims" Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik negotiated with English pilgrims. (A spokesperson for the distributor said she had no idea how the reference originated.)

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