News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Two extreme sports enjoying modest success recently (according to stories in, respectively, Time magazine and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin): (1) Yak-skiing in Manali, India (A person on skis and holding a bucket of nuts is attached to a yak by a long rope fixed to a pulley on a hilltop, with the yak near the top and the skier far below. The skier rattles the bucket loudly to infuriate the yak, which then charges down, yanking the skier rapidly uphill.). (2) Ancient, luge-like Hawaiian lava sledding (A daredevil lies on his stomach, 4 inches off the ground on a handcrafted board about 6 feet long, and slides down a 700-foot-long rock formation at speeds from 30 to 70 mph.).

Mothers Looking Out for No. 1

-- In July, firefighters in Stamford, Conn., had to break a car window, against the owner's wishes, to rescue her 23-month-old son, whom she had accidentally locked inside along with the key. The kid had been sweltering for more than 20 minutes when Susan Guita Silverstein, 42 (who was later charged with reckless endangerment), implored firefighters to let her go home and get a spare key so they wouldn't have to damage her Audi A4. (For infants on an 88-degree day, 20 minutes inside is dangerous, according to the firefighters.)

-- In August, the 14-year-old daughter of Alberta Rose of Brookfield, Wis., was found safe in Baytown, Texas, after being allegedly lured there over the Internet by a 37-year-old man. Rose had reported the girl missing 12 days earlier, but had decided, since she and her boyfriend had nonrefundable airline tickets, to head out on vacation (to Lake Tahoe), but to leave authorities her cell number, in case the girl turned up.

Questionable Judgments

-- In June, a judge in Edinburgh, Texas, accepted a plea bargain in which Robert W. Thompson, 46, who had pleaded no contest to aggravated sexual assault of a 7-year-old girl, was sentenced to no jail time but 320 hours of community service, to be specifically spent knitting afghans. (The judge was sympathetic to Thompson's frail heart condition.)

-- According to the law on the books in 1998 (since amended), Mitchell Johnson had to be released from prison in Memphis, Tenn., when he turned 21, which was in August. Johnson was the boy who, with a classmate, shot up their school in Jonesboro, Ark., that year, killing four girls and a teacher and wounding 10. According to the law, Johnson will have no criminal record and will presumably be free, for example, to buy a gun. (Several news organizations reported on Johnson's imminent release, but at press time, prison officials had not made a formal announcement.)

Low Probability of Rehab

Said Glenn A. Reed, 31, upon being sentenced in Waco, Texas, in July to 99 years in prison as a habitual criminal (after rejecting a plea bargain that would have meant a 15-year sentence): "There's things I choose to do, like, if I go in a store and choose to take a Snickers bar, if you catch me, you catch me. If not, I'm going to go home and eat it up and go on about my business, dog." And then there is Lena Driskell, 78, who was indicted for the June jealous-rage fatal shooting her former boyfriend, age 85, in an Atlanta senior citizens' home and who told police upon her arrest, "I did it, and I'd do it again!"

Cultural Diversity

-- Women Rising: A majority of golfers in Iran these days are women (about 800 in number), who play wearing the traditional head scarf and tunic, according to a July New York Times dispatch from Tehran. (The country's one grass course has only 12 holes after the other six were confiscated by Revolutionary Guards, but there are several sand-based courses.) Another New York Times July dispatch, from El Alto, Bolivia, reported on "Carmen Rosa" and the Cholitas, who are indigenous female wrestlers who toss each other around the ring, wearing bowler hats, shawls and multilayered skirts (clothing of their native Aymara people), as part of a Mexican- (and U.S.-) style pro wrestling circuit.

-- Reuters reported in May that Yu Haitao and his bride, Fang Shuling, had filed a complaint against their honeymoon hotel in Shanghai after Yu fell off the bed and broke his arm in front of friends and family who were preparing to give him a hard time in what is apparently a traditional "heckle the newlyweds" ceremony. Fang said the bed should have been safe to stand on.

-- Rudeness has become so prevalent in Japan, according to a May dispatch from Tokyo in The Times of London, that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has convened its commission on complaints, whose translated official name is the Study Group Relating to the Prevention of Behavior That Causes Discomfort Among Numerous People in Public Places. Among the public habits bothering various complainers are putting on makeup, sitting on the floor, uninhibitedly reading pornographic magazines, wearing strong perfume and ("unexpectedly," said the Times) "using an umbrella to practice golf swings."


-- Least Competent Animals: Veterinarian John Brunner was called to Milton, Tenn., in June to help release a cow that two hours earlier had stuck her head in a narrow, hollow opening in a tree and couldn't get it out. Using ropes and a tractor, Brunner freed her in 20 minutes. (Said the cow's owner, "It's a nosy animal.") And in August, police in Tenafly, N.J., used bolt cutters to remove the plastic mayonnaise jar that a coyote from the Tenafly Nature Center had gotten stuck on its snout.

-- Super-Forgetful People: The director of a Canadian landmine-detection company said in August that he had flown back from Sri Lanka with TNT in his luggage that he had just forgotten about. (Three airport security systems missed it.) And a 24-year-old man was arrested in August at the Oklahoma City airport for having a homemade pipe bomb in his luggage that he said he had just forgotten about. And when a 36-year-old woman was arrested for bigamy in Hordaland County, Norway, in June, she told officers that she had just forgotten she was already married.

Least Competent Criminals

Recurring Themes: Christopher Franklin, 20, became the latest man to flee from police on foot (from a traffic stop in Moore, Okla., in June) only to have his getaway aborted when he tripped on his loose, baggy pants (having run only about 30 feet). And in Durham, N.C., Otis Wilkins, 45, was charged with attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend and others in July for tossing a plastic bottle filled with gunpowder into their car, except that, as sometimes happens, he missed the window, and the bottle bounced back at his feet, igniting his clothes into a fireball, sending him to the hospital.

Recurring Themes

It has been 13 years since Stella Liebeck won that monumental $2.9 million verdict against McDonald's after she spilled her hot coffee on her lap, causing third-degree burns (with damages later reduced to $640,000). In August, Rachel Wahrenberg filed a similar lawsuit after her 6-year-old daughter was burned over 80 percent of her body in an Estero, Fla., McDonald's. The coffee was "unreasonably" hot, said Wahrenberg, even though the actual injury this time occurred when a 79-year-old customer carrying the coffee collided with the girl on his way to the condiment counter.

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