News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- Some well-off taxpayers in Washington, D.C., are picking up an easy $30,000 or so from the U.S. Treasury, courtesy of a 1976 "historic preservation" tax code deduction, according to a December Washington Post investigation. About 900 properties qualify, and owners get the deduction merely by forgoing the right to alter the building's facade (which D.C. law restricts, anyway). Giving up this "right" "earns" them an 11 percent tax deduction, and the average value of qualified buildings (according to the Post) is $1 million (historic facades are not often found on downscale homes), meaning that a claimant in the middle tax bracket would get about $30,000.

Scenes of the Surreal

(1) In November, the mind reader, The Amazing Kreskin, wrote to the acting governor of his home state of New Jersey that he wanted to help the state shed its image of unethical deals and thus volunteered to sit in government meetings and identify which officials are secretly up to no good. (2) Stephen J. Marks, 47, was driving in morning traffic on Nov. 3 near Nashville, Tenn., wearing a ski mask and gloves, though the temperature was in the 60s, and an alarmed citizen called police. However, Marks demonstrated that he has a medical condition that necessitates his wearing a ski mask except when the temperature is above 80.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (71) The dedicated or sanctimonious drunk-driving counselor or prosecutor who himself gets ticketed or arrested for drunk-driving, such as the aggressive supervising DUI prosecutor Lydia Wardell of Clearwater, Fla. (November). (72) Anyone who advertises goods (now limited only by the imagination) on Internet auction houses, such as Chris Doyle of Sydney, Australia, who, inspired by the recent $28,000 sale of a 10-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich with toast marks resembling a visage of the Virgin Mary, listed a grain of unnamed breakfast cereal that resembles the movie alien E.T. (and was offered about US$800) (November).

Cutting-Edge Action on Prostate Cancer

Doctors at the Ballarat-Austin Radiation Oncology Centre in Australia have begun inserting three rice-sized grains of 24-karat gold against patients' prostates. The pellets (cost: about US$300 each) graft permanently onto the gland and help doctors aim the radiation with more precision. And in December, in Vancouver, British Columbia, local TV stations said they were reluctant to air a public service announcement provided by the Prostate Center at Vancouver General Hospital because it featured a prostate-examining doctor reaching inside his patient and pulling out a ticking time bomb (to dramatize the urgency for men to be examined).

Questionable Judgments

Citing a police press release, the German news organization Deutsche Welle (DW-World) reported in November that the reason that motorist Julia Bauer of Bochum, Germany, lost control and smashed into a parked car and a lamppost was that she was preparing cereal and milk on the passenger seat while driving to work and tried to catch her bowl as it was falling to the floor. The cost of her breakfast (in damages) turned out to be about US$27,000.

Cultural Diversity

-- Sex-despondency among women is apparently such a problem in Japan that business is booming for counselor Kim Myong Gan's 4-year-old company of trained male professionals who invigorate them, according to a November Agence France-Presse dispatch from Tokyo. Kim charges the equivalent of US$190 for the initial consultation and scheduling, and his men provide hands-on assurance to the clients of their attractiveness and desirability. Most clients are either middle-aged virgins or wives whose husbands have grown to treat them as their sisters.

-- Zimbabwe, facing a severe food shortage, is considering an unlikely program to bring rich foreign visitors to the country, according to a government announcement in November. The information minister proposed an "obesity tourism strategy," in which overweight visitors (especially Americans) would be encouraged to "vacation" in Zimbabwe and "provide labor for (government-confiscated) farms in the hope of shedding weight." Americans, the proposal noted, spend $6 billion a year on "useless" dieting aids and could be encouraged to work off pounds and then flaunt "their slim bodies on a sun-downer cruise on the Zambezi (River)."

Latest Religious Messages

In November, a Hindu seer in India's Orissa state drew large crowds, inspired by his calmness in the face of his announced, spiritually induced death, which was to come before noon on Nov. 17. At noon, however, he was still alive, and, according to Asian Age newspaper, the crowd of 15,000 suddenly turned ugly, berating him for not dying, and police had to intervene. The man, who is chief cleric of Srignuru Ashram, told reporters, "I wanted to leave my mortal body, but I could not. Please forgive me."

People With Issues

Mr. Mount Lee Lacy, 21, was arrested for animal cruelty after his girlfriend's mother sent police to his apartment in Gainesville, Fla. Lacy's aggressive mastiff kept the officers at bay momentarily, but once inside, police noticed another dog, a Jack Russell terrier, that had a bloody paw, and eventually Lacy cheerfully told them that he routinely bit the dog. According to a police sergeant: "(Lacy) said that biting the dog was good punishment and that's how you train them, that dogs bite (and) so that's what they understand."

Least Competent Criminals

Criminals who accidentally leave identification at the scene of the crime are (according to News of the Weird) "no longer weird," but it was nevertheless remarkable that on the night of Nov. 4, in Rapid City, S.D., two burglary suspects, in separate incidents, left ID behind. Both of them, Daniel P. Ader, 25, and Brian W. Crawford, 26, had apparently removed their pants, for different reasons, leaving their wallets. (Evidence suggested that the reason Crawford had removed his pants, after breaking into a law office, was to photocopy his genitals on the office copy machine.)

Recurring Themes

As senior citizens resist the idea of age-specific driver testing, accidents continue in which police suspect the cause was an elderly driver who momentarily confused the gas pedal for the brake. Recent examples: 90-year-old man, crashed into a pharmacy, Scarborough, Maine, November; 83-year-old driver, drove off the second floor of a parking deck, Las Vegas, October; 80-year-old driver, smashed into a Veterans Day parade (one death), Whitman, Mass., November; 74-year-old man, crashed into a coffee shop, Corvallis, Ore., December; 74-year-old man, mowed down pedestrians on a sidewalk (two deaths), Montreal, Quebec, November. And in the most prominent case, George Weller, 87, heads back to court in January, having pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter in the 2003 Santa Monica, Calif., farmer's market "massacre" in which 10 people were killed and 63 injured when Weller couldn't find the brakes for 1,000 feet at 60 mph.

Readers' Choice

After Billy W. Williams, 53, skipped out during his trial for aggravated assault in 2003 in Dallas, he was found guilty in absentia, but Judge Faith Johnson apparently was not quite satisfied. When Williams was recaptured and returned to her courtroom in October 2004 for sentencing, Johnson organized a "party" in his "honor," with balloons, streamers and a cake, to create a festive backdrop for her gleeful announcement that she was sentencing him to a life term.

Police Blotter

William Glenn Barefoot, 40, escaped from jail in Fayetteville, N.C., in October and soon after that called his brother John to report that he hadn't eaten since the escape and that he was cold, in part because he had had to break out quickly and had not had a chance to grab his shoes. (He was recaptured a few days later.) And from the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Daily, 12-2-04: "On Tuesday, University police took a report from a man (whose complaint was) that the word 'loser' was written in the dirt on his car's rear bumper."

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