News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- In court papers filed in 1994 but which only recently drew public attention, lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., challenged a child-support claim against a priest by pointing out the culpability of the mother herself for failing to use birth control (which the church regards a grave sin). The 1994 document came to light when the woman went back to court in July 2005 for an increase in child support, but the court turned her down in deference to Father Arturo Uribe's vow of poverty, although Uribe's ordaining order subsequently volunteered more support. (The man who was archbishop of Portland during the 1994 case recently assumed Pope Benedict's previous job as the Vatican's chief doctrinist.)

Compelling Explanations

-- In July, a team of South Korean scientists made history by cloning an Afghan hound, but many experts view the team's revelation two months earlier as even more important, when they derived 11 stem cell lines from clones of patients with specific diseases. The leader of the team, Hwang Woo-suk, told the journal Nature Medicine then that Koreans have an advantage over westerners in delicate laboratory work because of "Oriental hands. We can pick up very slippery corn or rice with the steel chopsticks."

-- Lame: (1) Ronald Schueller, convicted of attempting to hire someone to knock his estranged wife unconscious and kidnap her, said (according to prosecutors) that he was just trying to reconcile with her, based on an idea from a "Dr. Phil" TV segment in which the host said that sometimes people need a good scare to realize their delusions (Port Washington, Wis., August). (2) Jessica Stakelbeck, 22, charged with neglect when two of her diaper-clad toddlers were found on the side of a highway, blamed her lapse not on being high from her admitted methamphetamine habit but on sleepiness from missing her meth for several days (Franklin, Ind, August).

Latest Rights

-- Eric Laverriere, 25, filed a federal lawsuit in Boston in July, claiming the Waltham, Mass., police violated his constitutional right to be drunk when they arrested him at a private New Year's Eve party even though there was no evidence that he was disturbing anyone. (The law in many states requires police to detain someone who is incapacitated and who might be a threat to himself, and indeed, some police departments have been sued if they fail to detain someone who later injures himself.) And in July, Britain's High Court declared illegal London's 9 p.m. curfew for those under age 16 who are not with an adult. Lord Justice Brooke said "everyone" should have the right to "walk the streets without interference from police."

-- Geoffrey Moore, 65, of Hightown Green, England, filed an unfair dismissal claim against his former employer, Kevin Mayhew Publishers, for firing him after he was convicted of six counts of sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl. Upon his conviction, Moore was placed on various restrictions but avoided jail time and now says that since he never actually went to jail, the company, which specializes in Christian-themed books, should take him back.

The Litigious Society

-- In Old Saybrook, Conn., in October 2004, Alan Hauser, who was parked with engine running, sitting with his mother-in-law, accidentally hit the accelerator, causing the SUV to jump a curb and plunge down an embankment into the Connecticut River, where rescuers (who were later cited for heroism) pulled the woman out 30 minutes later. (Hauser managed on his own.) The woman, 75, suffered serious brain damage from being submerged, and in August filed a lawsuit against the city for not having guardrails, not having regular patrols of trained and equipped rescuers, and not having more signs warning people of the danger of falling into the river. (Hauser was also sued, but the family's original plan, to sue individual rescuers, was scuttled.)

-- In July, Jeanette Passalaqua, 32, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino, Calif., against the Kaiser Permanente medical organization for the death of her husband in June 2004, when he passed out from watching his wife receive an epidural anesthetic, fell over and fatally hit his head. According to the lawsuit, hospital personnel had asked the husband to hold and comfort his wife while the needle was being inserted and therefore were at fault.


-- New World Order: In April, the communist government of China presented its quinquennial Vanguard (or Model) Worker award (in the past, given to loyal factory workers, dedicated public-outhouse stewards, and the like) to Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets' basketball player who lives most of the year in the United States and earns about $15 million annually from playing and from product endorsements (which is about 15,000 times the average earning of Chinese urban workers).

-- More Ironies: (1) Criminal defense lawyer Donald Johnson apprehended the man burglarizing his home in Cornwall, Ontario, in May, and discovered it was one of his clients, Scott Best, 34 (who apparently was unaware of whose home he had entered and wanted to telephone Johnson from the station house). (2) Among the items stolen from the All Souls Church in Peterborough, England, in July was a 2-foot-high statue of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost and stolen items.

Things People Believe

About 200 major league baseball players wear $23 titanium necklaces made by the Japanese company, Phiten, according to a June New York Times report, with many accepting the company's claim that they improve circulation and reduce muscle stress. Said a company spokesman: "Everybody has electricity running through their bodies. This product stabilizes that flow of electricity if you're stressed or tired." Said New York Mets pitcher Heath Bell (who has two necklaces): "If you think it works, it's going to work. If you don't think it works, it's not going to work. But I'm going to keep wearing it, because next year, there will be something new we'll all have to get."

Questionable Judgments

Steven Newell was hospitalized in London, Ontario, in June after his large plastic swimming pool, which he had just placed on his second-floor balcony and then filled with water, caused the balcony to collapse and plunge to the ground. The pool, 8 feet in diameter and filled with water as it was to a height of 20 inches, would require about 640 gallons, weighing more than 2 1/2 tons. Newell had relocated the pool to the balcony in order to avoid the safety requirement of building a fence around it.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

Lawyers for horror novelist Stephen King acknowledged in June that King had been sued once again by Anne Hiltner, who now claims that the obsessed, psychotic nurse in the movie "Misery" must have been based on her. She had earlier claimed that a psychic character from King's TV show "Kingdom Hospital" was based on her and sued him before that for allegedly breaking into her home and stealing manuscripts.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has often mentioned cases of bestiality, but the death of a 45-year-old man in Enumclaw, Wash., in July was extraordinary. The death was reported in the local media as having occurred after "sex with a horse," but bestiality usually involves the human as the penetrator. In this case, though, the man died of acute peritonitis from a perforated colon, indicating that the horse was the penetrator. Investigators reportedly also seized videotapes of the activity, which took place at a nondescript farm that was apparently known in Internet bestiality chat rooms to be a covert haven for sex with livestock. (Washington is one of 17 states without a specific anti-bestiality law, and authorities said that the act was probably not a crime, in that the state's animal-cruelty law would require showing that the horse suffered.)

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