News of the Weird

Week of October 15, 2006


Most of the year, civil aviation engineer Joseph Ngoupou and his wife (a budget officer at the World Bank) live the life of a suburban Washington, D.C., couple taking up golf on weekends. But two or three times a year, Ngoupou travels to Cameroon, where he is, by heredity, a village chief, responsible for resolving disputes among his 3,500 subjects. According to a September Wall Street Journal dispatch, his impoverished village has no electrical service or running water and lies five miles of barely passable road from the nearest town, and the isolated villagers are eager to cede Ngoupou authority as the ultimate wise man, to decide, for instance, the fair price of a bride's dowry or the proper restitution for the theft of plums.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit!

-- Sometime next year, if all goes well, Brett Holm of Chaska, Minn., will begin selling his Season Shot, an improvement over current shotgun shells because its pellets dissolve on contact in the game meat and, more important, automatically flavor it for cooking. Holm told the Chanhassen (Minn.) Villager newspaper in August that he will initially offer lemon pepper, mesquite, Mexican, and Creole flavors, but, he said, chemists are at work right now to expand the selection.

-- In Dafen, a suburb of Shenzhen, China, more than half of the world's cheap oil paintings, including knock-offs of masterpieces, are hand-produced by laborers at up to 30 per day, earning them the equivalent of $125 to $400 a month. Germany's Der Spiegel reported from Dafen in August that a "reasonably skillful copy of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' sells for (about $50). Buy 100, and the price goes down to (about $33 each)." One painter remarked that when a large order arrives (for instance, from Wal-Mart), he may have to paint the same thing 1,000 times, earning perhaps the equivalent of 40 cents each.


-- Another painter, California graffiti artist Paco Rosic, set out to facilitate what he called his life's ambition in January when he and his family bought an abandoned warehouse in Waterloo, Iowa, so that he could re-create with spray paint a near replica (in half-size) of Michelangelo's fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The Los Angeles Times reported in September that he has used 2,000 cans so far and eventually will cover about 2,500 square feet of newly installed curved ceiling in the warehouse.

-- In September, police in Madison, Wis., said Milo G. Chamberlain's blood-alcohol content was .425, which experts said normally is attainable only by those either dead or in a coma, but he was picked up, quite conscious, allegedly causing a disturbance at a Marathon gas station, where he reportedly got into a fight with a gas pump before being restrained by passersby. Police said Chamberlain responded to each of their questions only by rattling off strings of numbers of no particular pattern.

-- Surgeons have reattached many penises (in the cases of accidents, self-mutilations or angry wives' vengeance), but the first successful transplant of the organ, to the point in which blood and urine flow were regenerated, was performed this summer in a 15-hour procedure at Guangzhou General Hospital in China. Although the patient was left functional, he and his wife, two weeks later, citing "psychological" reasons, ordered the new organ removed. (A formal report is to appear this month in the journal European Urology.)

Addictions and Compulsions

(1) In a September raid, sheriff's deputies in Vista, Calif., seized jars of urine from the home of a suspected methamphetamine user. Deputies said the user appeared to be saving his own urine in order to extract, and reuse, the meth he had already used. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent said he was unsure whether the practice was widespread. (2) A September episode of the periodic NBC "Dateline" stings of online child sex predators, in Long Beach, Calif., turned up 38 arrestees, including one who is apparently beyond embarrassment, since he had already been busted once by "Dateline."

Fetishes on Parade

Alfred Thomas Steven, 69, was arrested in the La Purisma Mission park in Lompoc, Calif., in September, and cited for trespassing and animal cruelty for attempting to satisfy himself sexually with a horse. According to police, Steven apparently had anointed himself with olive oil and coated his nude body in feed grain or oats, and then lay down so that the horse would nibble and lick him. Deputies said he told them that it was a longtime fantasy.

Least Competent People

(1) Richard Brooks, 50, was injured in a September incident in Concord, Calif., in which he became enraged at a group of bikers and drove toward them in his car, waving a pool cue with his left arm. It wasn't the bikers who injured him, though. Brooks got out, still in a rage, walked around behind his car, and was backed into because he had left the car in reverse gear. The collision knocked him into traffic, but some of the bikers pulled him to safety. (2) Brian Hoyt, 46, was arrested in Framingham, Mass., in August after he, riding his bike the wrong way on a busy street, headed straight for a police cruiser, forcing the driver to swerve. Said police Lt. Paul Shastany, later, Hoyt appeared to be "playing a game of chicken with the officers."

Fine Points of Pennsylvania Law

(1) A superior court judge in Reading, Pa., overruled a county court judge in August and declared that Miller Genuine Draft is, indeed, an actual beer. (The county judge had said that the prosecutor had failed to show that MGD was on the state beer list, but the superior court judge said there was other evidence that MGD is beer.) (2) In Carlisle, Pa., Derek Randall Pittman, with a .237 blood-alcohol reading, was ticketed for drunk driving, even though he said that all he did was hold the steering wheel momentarily while his friend in the driver's seat took a bite from his sandwich. However, that was enough to be "operating" the car, said a judge at a hearing in August.

Recurring Themes

In 2001, a veteran middle school science teacher in New Bedford, Mass., used the same needle to prick the fingers of two dozen seventh-graders to make blood slides for class. (The teacher retired before school officials learned of the gross breach of blood-safety procedures, and subsequent tests revealed no problems.) In September 2006, a first-year teacher at Salina South High School in Salina, Kan., used the same lancet on more than 20 students in her anatomy and physiology classes, thus violating not only blood-safety rules but system guidelines against using real blood for class work. All students were tested, and results were pending at press time.

Odds & Ends (Mostly Odds)

-- "Mr. Yamaki, you are an incredibly lucky man," said New York City federal magistrate Lois Bloom in September, presiding at a bail hearing for Japanese executive Yoshio Yamaki, 56, who had been charged with stealing $7 million from his employer to fund his gambling habit. Bloom was referring to the fact that his substantial bail had been jointly arranged by Yamaki's wife, Hiroko (whom he had walked out on in January), and his mistress, Megumi Tsuji, with whom he had been living.

-- In August, Alexandria, Ind., dentist David Steele proudly showed off to an Anderson Herald Bulletin reporter the two gold crowns he had fitted on his 1-year-old Persian cat, Sebastian. Though he said the crowns were ostensibly to strengthen Sebastian's teeth, the reporter said that their prominence suggested "a hip-hop star's guard-cat or a movie villain's pet." Steele also put a gold crown on his Boston terrier.

(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at or Send your Weird News to or P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.)

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