News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



In July, after word got out that the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" could be fitted with an online update to make some of its scenes explicitly sexual, an 85-year-old grandmother in New York sued the company, Rockstar Games, for having failed to rate the game AO (adults only, age 18 and up) to take account of the modification. However, Florence Cohen apparently freely purchased the M-rated version (age 17 and up) for her then-14-year-old grandson, even though it invites players to murder, steal and engage in gang violence and attacks on police. She complained only when she found out that the M version's unexplicit sex and partial nudity could be made explicit.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

(1) In July, as teams of poverty-stricken soccer players from around the world showed up in Scotland for the "Homeless World Cup," immigration officials denied entry to players from Kenya, Zambia, Burundi, Cameroon and Nigeria because they lacked funds for lodging and meals during the tournament. (2) In March, when Knoxville, Tenn., prosecutors ordered 582 parents of chronically truant students to a meeting to advise them of their responsibility to get their kids to school, 241 failed to show up.

Can't Possibly Be True

-- Scientists at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Pittsburgh announced in June that they had drained dogs' blood from their bodies, filled them with a replacement fluid, and then revived them by successfully reinfusing blood three hours later, thus creating for a time "zombie" dogs. During the three hours, the dogs were clinically dead, with no heartbeat or brain activity, but after reinfusion and electric shocks, they came back to life, normal with no brain damage. (Not all dogs made it back, though.) A spokesman said the technique could be tried on humans within a year.

-- In this year's Maccabiah Games in July in Tel Aviv, historically open only to Jews and Israelis, the 84-kg. weight class of Greco-Roman wrestling was won by Mohammad Babulfath, an Iranian-born Muslim who wrestles out of Sweden. Maccabiah authorities attribute their admission error to the inartfulness of their announcement on a wrestling Web site, phrased as an "invitation" to Maccabiah, which led Babulfath and two non-Jewish teammates to believe that they had been formally invited to compete. Once they showed up, Maccabiah officials decided to let them wrestle.


-- A Philadelphia firefighter was hospitalized in critical condition, and his wife and their three children injured, in Atlantic City in June after an accident at the Steel Pier amusement park. The five were in a ride car on the Big Splash, where after a descent, the car was to slide into the water at a high speed and soak everyone, but apparently the park workers on duty had either forgotten to put water in the basin or had not noticed that it had all drained out.

-- Poor Candidates for Rehabilitation: Paul Meeter, 21, just released from jail in Elk Grove, Calif., in June on traffic charges, was arrested a few hours later and charged with smuggling out the orange jumpsuit he had been wearing while behind bars. And a 15-year-old boy, who had a juvenile-court hearing on a theft charge in Macon, Ga., in July, was accused of stealing about $600 from the blind snack bar operator in the lobby of the courthouse.

Unclear on the Concept

-- In Lebanon, Ohio, Donna Rose, 39, pleaded guilty in June after being accused by prosecutors of allowing an older man to have sex with her then-15-year-old daughter. Rose's behavior came to light when the man was arrested, at which time he produced a note, signed by Rose, which he apparently believed would absolve him. The note read: "(Curtis Lee Barnes) always had and will (have permission to have sex) until she is 18 or until they break up." (Barnes was convicted earlier, and both he and Rose were designated as sex offenders.)

-- Disbarred lawyer Robert M. Short, who was convicted in June for stealing $439,000 from his former Vienna, Va., law firm and who had been on the lam for two years, received a suspended sentence from Circuit Judge Leslie Alden (except for four months in jail), in part based on his promise to pay restitution of $245,000 to the law firm. However, Short's offer was to pay it at a rate of $50 a month, which, without interest, would take 408 years to pay off.

Teachers With High Standards of Excellence

High school basketball coach Drew Sanders, 49, was arrested in New York City in July in connection with his method of inspiring two of his summer-program players not to miss free throws. Sanders was charged with more than 20 instances of spanking the boys' bare buttocks for missed shots. And the New York Post, citing a school system investigator, reported in April that high school teacher Rhianna Ellis, 25, had gotten pregnant from an affair with one of her students but had nonetheless later graded the boy a barely passing "65" in her social studies class, due to his laziness and tardiness.

Least Competent People

The Chicago Tribune reported in June that a man waiting for a train at the Sox/35th Street station on the South Side had been taken to the hospital after a train knocked him unconscious as he bent over the rail platform looking for the cell phone he had just dropped. And WSB-TV reported in June that a man had been hospitalized in Forest City, Ga., after, according to a witness, attempting to repair a speaker wire by using, in some undisclosed way, a .22-caliber bullet. "At some point," the station reported, "the man ended up with a piece of wire in his neck."

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported on Americans singularly obsessed, beyond all distraction, with the alleged illegality of U.S. income taxes. In July, an Australian family was convicted in Melbourne of defrauding the Tax Office, after converting its farm in Victoria into the "Principality of Ponderosa," claiming it was an independent kingdom that owed Australia nothing for its income from polystyrene box manufacturing. Virgilio Rigoli and his sons (including "Little Joe," 25) had issued a Declaration of Independence in 1994 and required passports for anyone crossing the border "from" Australia. According to their lawyer, what initially angered the Rigolis was the Department of Agriculture's bulldozing a crop that had become infested with a pest.

Conflicting Signals

(1) The Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in Alameda County, Calif., with more than 5,000 windmills producing pollution-free electricity for 120,000 homes a year, was challenged by environmentalists in July because an estimated 1,700 to 4,700 birds a year get chopped up by the turbines, including birds of dwindling species. (2) In June, two employees of North Carolina People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were arrested for illegally dumping 80 carcasses of euthanized dogs and cats into trash containers at a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Ahoskie. (PETA condemned the dumping but defended its use of euthanasia. However, a North Carolina county health director said she had understood that PETA would work harder to find animals homes before resorting to euthanasia.)

The Continuing Crisis

An official monitor in the online role-playing game Second Life told BBC News in April that he knows of spouses of game players who have actually paid money to online-game detectives to learn whether their mates are committing "virtual adultery" with other players' characters in the course of the game. (Second Life encourages players to create a character and live out a made-up existence, which can of course include having an affair with another player's made-up character.)

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