News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


Lead Story

Brett Backwell, Australian rules football player for Gleneig, a suburb of Adelaide, whose broken finger has hampered his playing for three years, decided in September to forgo bone fusion in favor of just having half the finger amputated. "(I)f that's going to help me to succeed at this level (of pro football), then it's something you've just got to do." (In 1985, San Francisco 49ers all-pro defensive back Ronnie Lott chose to have the tip of one finger amputated because surgery, and the rehabilitation necessary to repair the finger, would have caused him to miss one game.)


-- The Moscow Cats Theater still plays to packed houses in Russia, as described in News of the Weird in March 1998, but founder Yuri Kuklachev brought 26 of his improbably trained housecats to New York City's TriBeCa Performing Arts Center this fall to play weekends through October. Among the tricks: front paw stands; "tightrope" walking on a pole; and traversing the pole from underneath by grasping it with four legs (but one cat does it using only two legs). Kuklachev says each show is different because "(s)ometimes a cat doesn't want (to perform) one trick, so he does another."

-- Megalomaniac Roundup: (1) Turkmenistan's supreme leader Saparmurat Niyazov, chronicled here in 2002 (when he whimsically changed the names of the seven days of the week and the 12 months of the year) and 2004 (for insisting that all licensed drivers pass a "morality" test), said in September 2005 that his country would build a huge, natural-habitat zoo for a large array of species, including penguins, in a desert-like area of the country. (2) And North Korea's Kim Jong-il was touted by a spokesman in August 2005 as one who never forgets a phone number or even a single line of computer code. (Among his previously publicized skills in News of the Weird reports dating back to 1994 are writing operas, flying jets, producing movies and shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round of golf he ever played.)

-- The Anchorage, Alaska, zoo has now completed the elephant treadmill it promised last year for its venerable "Maggie," age 23, and will unveil it in November, even though in the intervening year, she has lost about 1,000 of her then-9,000 pounds, through exercise and dieting. The treadmill is merely a humongous version of a treadmill for humans.

-- Los Angeles has become the U.S. epicenter for surgery for women seeking to "firm up" their genitals, with Dr. David Matlock the leading practitioner of "vaginal rejuvenation," according to a dispatch in Toronto's Globe and Mail in August. Much of the impetus comes from patients' (or their husbands' or boyfriends') desire for vulvas as trim and youthful as those of actresses in porno movies. News of the Weird first covered the phenomenon in December 1988 when a Dayton, Ohio, gynecologist was accused of surgically tightening a woman's vagina without her consent (at the behest of her husband during surgery for another condition). The doctor, James C. Burt, who wrote an early book on the subject, "The Surgery of Love," eventually lost his license and a $5 million malpractice verdict.

-- Florida artist Maria Alquilar returned to Livermore, Calif., in August to fix the large mosaic she created at the city library a year ago when the city paid her $40,000 but failed to spellcheck her names "(Albert) Eistein," "(William) Shakespere," "(Paul) Gaugan," "(Vincent) Van Gough" and seven others. She had initially refused to make the corrections, dismissing the errors as merely "words" and angry at being ridiculed, but she relented after the city offered her $6,000 more.

-- With increased job anxiety in China's market economy, more Chinese men and women are opting for painful body-lengthening procedures to get taller. A June 2005 report on China Radio International updated the 2002 News of the Weird story, in which "hundreds" were enduring the months-long "Ilizarov procedure" (forced breaking of bones in the leg, then manually adjusting leg braces four times a day that pull the bones slightly apart, then waiting as they grow back and fuse together). As a 33-year-old, 5-foot-tall woman (aiming for 5-4) said in 2002: "I'll have a better job, a better boyfriend, and eventually a better husband. It's a long-term investment."

-- News of the Weird has reported several times on psychotherapists who help patients "recover" "repressed" memories. According to the therapists, suddenly "remembering" a really astonishing event means that the event must have actually happened, but increasingly, patients realize that they were merely persuaded by aggressive psychotherapy (such as the Chicago-area woman who in February 2004 was awarded $7.5 million from two doctors who had, over a 12-year period, facilitated her false "memory" that she had bred children for a satanic cult). In August 2005, a leading skeptic of such therapists, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, reported (in a National Academy of Sciences publication) how her research team had planted "memories" in her subjects' minds, actually convincing strawberry ice cream lovers, falsely, that they had forgotten that they used to hate the stuff.

-- Kaziah Hancock and Cindy Stewart are back in court in Salt Lake City after the Utah Court of Appeals granted them a new trial in July to try once again to get money from a breakaway Mormon sect headed by Jim Harmston. Hancock and Stewart had won $300,000 in 2002 after Harmston took their land in exchange for giving them a place to live and promising them a face-to-face meeting with Jesus Christ. (Harmston's defense was that God had told him to break that promise.)

-- Legislation advancing $453 million for the Alaskan "bridges to nowhere" described in a News of the Weird story in April 2004 (which would connect Ketchikan, pop. 7,800, with the town's airport, replacing a five-minute ferry boat ride with a bridge almost as big as the Golden Gate, and a two-mile-long span connecting Anchorage with a sparsely populated port) was finally passed by Congress in August 2005, as part of the 6,300 "earmark" pet projects of legislators, totaling $24 billion. The projects are back in the news as Congress considers cutting some in order to fund reconstruction on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

-- Former Cornelius, N.C., dentist John Hall pleaded guilty in July (an "Alford plea," acknowledging only the sufficiency of the evidence against him) to seven counts of misdemeanor assault on female patients, specifically, squirting semen into their mouths from a syringe. The state Board of Dental Examiners had revoked his license in 2004 after finding two syringes of semen in his office with patients' DNA (from saliva) on them. Hall's sentence was five years' probation, and his lawyer said he thought Hall would move to Jacksonville, Fla., and go into the flooring and tile business.

-- Robert Norton starred in News of the Weird several times since 1988, owing to his habit of (and more than 20 arrests for) annoying his Pekin, Ill., neighbors by doing yardwork naked. (When, in 1999, a judge finally told him that he would go to jail if he did it again, Norton said, "I can't (promise) anything.") He passed away in July 2005, at age 82, and despite his wishes, family members made sure that he was wearing clothes when he was buried.

-- It was reported here only a month ago as one of the "most frightening stories of the week," but as it turns out, the story had already been topped. In July, 644 people had gotten together in Kimberly, British Columbia, and simultaneously played accordions for half an hour. Thanks to a proud News of the Weird reader, it can now be reported, shudderingly, that the next month at a St. John's, Newfoundland, folk arts festival, the record was broken, by 989 accordionists.

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