News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Another Underreported Success Story in the Rebuilding of Iraq: "Abu Mustafa" (a nickname) is part of a small market of vendors of pornographic videos operating in Baghdad, according to an August Reuters dispatch, and sells about 50 DVDs a day, with movies from Lebanon and other Arab countries the most popular. "I tried lots of other jobs," he said, but this was his most promising opportunity (although he said the righteous Shi'ite Badr Brigades have threatened to kill him and his approximately 30 competitors in the Bab al-Sharjee neighborhood).

Can't Possibly Be True

-- Australian surfer Shane Willmott of the country's Gold Coast became a national media sensation in July when reporters showed up to watch him put his three trained mouse surfers through their paces, in local creeks and in the Pacific Ocean. Willmott trained them in a bathtub and built them little surfboards and little jet skis.

-- A week apart in August, police in Searcy, Ark., and Victoria, British Columbia, reported increases in local behaviors that they both strangely but confidently attributed to methamphetamine addiction. Searcy police say that almost all of the meth addicts they arrest have collections of arrowheads in their homes, gathered from lengthy forays into local fields, and Victoria police report a similar fascination with bicycle parts. Authorities in both places say meth makes users need to keep their hands busy on menial tasks. (Said a Victoria constable, "They sit in the bush with hundreds of (bicycle) parts just fiddling with them all day.")

-- In May, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation made a $700,000 grant to a World Wildlife Fund program to protect the apparently gorgeous forests in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan even though (according to a 2003 report in National Geographic) the recipient of the attention, the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, was explicitly created to protect Bhutan's version of "Bigfoot." Bhutan's "yeti" is called the "migoi" and is about 5 feet tall, covered with hair except for a face, smells horrible, and disguises its four-legged tracks by carefully making sure to leave only two prints.

The Most Frightening Stories of the Week

In Kimberly, British Columbia, in July, trying to establish a Guinness Book record, 644 people at a music festival played their accordions simultaneously for half an hour. And in August, the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald reported that business is strong for local resident John Flannery, who at age 78 still works 15 to 20 times a month posing for artists as a nude model.

Unclear on the Concept

-- "Sex Offenders": Charbel Hamaty, of Lebanese descent, spent six months in jail in Raleigh, N.C., after being arrested last year for "molesting" his infant son, with the evidence consisting of family snapshots of Hamaty playfully kissing the nude tot's belly button. Only after a protest campaign did a judge finally dismiss the charge, according to a July report by WRAL-TV. Not so lucky was Fitzroy Barnaby of Evanston, Ill., who angrily grabbed the arm of a 14-year-old girl whom he almost ran into as she was playing dangerously in traffic. He was convicted under the state's "restraining a minor" statute, which requires that its violators be listed as sex offenders (even though the trial judge and, in June, the state Appellate Court, both discounted any sexual motive).

-- Ohio state alcohol and drug undercover agent Timothy Gales was accused, after an internal investigation, of having undermined his own teenage confidential informant in a Columbus store that the pair were probing for selling cigarettes to minors. According to the official report (described in the Columbus Dispatch in July), Gales stood alongside the teenager, and when the clerk proceeded with the sale, Gale asked, "Hey, aren't you supposed to ask for ID?" It was allegedly Gales' second blown-sting incident this year.

-- Elijah Walker, 35, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in Cincinnati in June, resisted complying with the state requirement that he also give up a DNA sample, in that he feared the state would use it to create a clone of him. (Said the prosecutor, reassuringly, "I'm not sure the state really wants another Elijah Walker.")

The Absolute Right Never to Be Offended

Earlier this year, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Belfast, Northern Ireland, banned the use of the term "brainstorming" when referring to thinking up ideas, instead decreeing that staff will use the term "thought showers" since the former term might be offensive to some people with brain injuries. And New York City mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields apologized in July for telling a reporter that, when she was arrested in a civil rights protest in the South in 1963, police took her away in a "paddy wagon." She said the term could be offensive to some Irish-Americans.


(1) Arlyne Reiter, of Pompano Beach, Fla., describing the experience of having just arisen in the morning to encounter an iguana in her bathroom: "It was like Jurassic Park in my toilet." (2) Connecticut saddle-maker Mike Derrick, on why he set up a booth in Boston at the August Fetish Fair Fleamarket: He could spend six hours creating a bridle for a horse and earn $40, he said, but "make one for a human, $120."

Least Competent Criminals

In Clovis, N.M., in July, Danny J. Jimenez, 51, was sentenced to six years in prison for a pair of 2003 burglaries. Police had captured Jimenez by following the blood trail that stemmed from his encounter with a pawn shop's glass jewelry case. Later, investigators learned that an injury to Jimenez's head did not come from the jewelry case but occurred when Jimenez accidentally hit himself with a hammer while burglarizing a church later that night. Said a detective, "(Jimenez) had a big, round (indentation) in his forehead that was consistent with the hammer that I found." (And, as if he needed more misery, Jimenez's loot bag broke during his getaway, causing him to lose most of the jewelry, anyway.)

Recurring Themes

Among the stories fabricated by the former New Republic writer Stephen Glass was a March 1998 description (picked up, unfortunately, by News of the Weird) of two Wall Street companies' ritual worship of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. (One supposedly held a cake party and songfest on Greenspan's birthday; the other supposedly had a special office with Greenspan memorabilia to help bond traders meditate. Two months later, the magazine fired Glass and apologized for the fictions.) In August 2005, Erin Crowe, a recent art graduate of the University of Virginia, quietly placed in a New York gallery 18 paintings and sketches she had made over the years of Greenspan, a subject she chose "because his face is so interesting, his lips, his ears" and "his forehead, his comb over." As news circulated about their existence, money managers from around the country quickly bought all 18 pieces at prices up to $4,000 each.

The District of Calamity (continued)

(1) The Capitol City all-stars, bubbling with confidence that this year would be their best chance ever to win the regionals and advance to the Little League World Series, found out in June that they were out of the tournament because the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation failed to send in the paperwork on time. (2) In June, the District of Columbia agency that approves charter schools turned down the Dupont Circle International Academy (a rigorous International Baccalaureate program), citing as one ground that the school will not admit or pass students who perform at below their grade level. The agency's chairman told Washington City Paper, "(A school) has to serve everybody that shows up."

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