News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF FEBRUARY 26, 2006

LEAD STORY

Obsessed executives have always taken business home at night, but increasingly they take it into the bathroom, with laptop computers, high-speed connections, flat-panel televisions and speaker phones, according to a February Wall Street Journal report. (Said one, "I'm beside myself when I can't get my e-mails.") However, there are problems, e.g., "sound-chamber" sound (the hollow voice created by typical bathroom acoustics usually gives away one's location) and the "BlackBerry dunk" (with one Houston repair shop saying it gets a half-dozen jobs a day of portable devices accidentally dropped into the sink or tub, "or worse").

Government in Action

-- In January, a police SWAT officer in Fairfax, Va., accidentally shot and killed an unarmed optometrist on whom the swarming team was serving an arrest warrant for suspicion of gambling. (In April 2005, a SWAT team arrested 24 community poker players in Palmer Lake, Colo., but at least there were no casualties. In October 1998, a passive but startled security guard was killed by a SWAT team moving in on a club in Virginia Beach, Va., suspected of housing gambling.)

-- Tough Love: (1) Australia's Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, announced in December that terrorist suspects being held under house arrest would routinely be sent to anger management classes, to help them address their alienation. (2) In December, a 75-unit apartment house opened in Seattle, funded by grants from the local, state and federal governments, as free housing for what the city considers its most incorrigible drunks, on the theory that keeping an eye on them would be less costly than leaving them free to cause mischief and overuse emergency rooms.

-- The Times of London reported in January that according to recently released government files from the 1980s, the administration of Prime Minister Thatcher appeared seriously concerned that poachers posed a threat to the Loch Ness monster (if and when it revealed itself). (Also in those files, as reported in News of the Weird in 2004, was a letter from Swedish officials seeking advice from the Nessie-experienced British on protecting Sweden's own underwater Lake Storsjo monster.)

-- At Fort Polk, La., the Pentagon has created elaborate, Hollywood-like sets of buildings and homes but representing village scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan under realistic conditions of war, to train soldiers preparing for deployment. Among the fine details (according to a January Harper's magazine report): hiring amputees and using fake blood to simulate horrific injuries; piping in the scent of vomit and other emblems of battlefield chaos; bringing in U.S.-residing Iraqi natives to heckle soldiers in Arabic; conducting press briefings before hostile reporters; and at one venue, fighting in modern city blocks of buildings, presumably for guerilla wars of the future.

Tax Bureaucrats Gone Wild!

(1) In December, a self-employed market analyst in Chimacum, Wash., requested from the IRS a copy of the 2003 Form 1040 and instructions, so he could revise an old tax return, and three weeks later received instead two shipments totaling 48,000 copies of 2005 Form 1040 and instructions. (2) Tax officials in Valparaiso, Ind., admitted in February that they mistakenly valued one house at $400 million (though its previous assessment was $121,900), and even though they recomputed the owner's bill, they failed to erase from the city budget the $8 million in tax revenue they were expecting from the property, including $3 million that they had already disbursed.

The Poor Dears!

(1) With Clinton Dearman about to be sentenced for burglary and assault in Christchurch, New Zealand, in January, his lawyer asked for sympathy. Dearman had been surprised mid-burglary by his victims, who were all seniors who proceeded to beat Dearman up and hog-tie him (a photo of which made the newspapers). Thus, the lawyer said, Dearman had become a "laughingstock" among prisoners and would "never be able to hold his head up in criminal company again." (2) In January, Alexis du Pont de Bie Sr., 62, who grew up in a du Pont family mansion and inherited $7 million, filed a lawsuit in New York City accusing his estate's trustees of mismanagement that has reduced his wealth to $2 million and necessitated a cut in his allowance to $3,000 a month, making him, he said, "literally destitute and homeless."

Sacred Traditions

(1) Mutaa, the 1,400-year-old Islamic tradition of "temporary" marriage (typically, for one-night stands or for financial reasons), has proliferated in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, embraced by Shiites even though condemned by Sunnis, according to a January Los Angeles Times dispatch. (2) Under sharia law, a Muslim husband can end a marriage at will, but apparently there are formalities. In Kuala Lumpur in January, a judge said the declaration had to be made in court and thus fined a Malaysian lawmaker the equivalent of about $150 after he tried to declare divorce first by text-messaging his wife and then by voicemail.

World-Class Multitasking

Police arrested David Kennedy, 33, in January near Murfreesboro, Tenn., after he accidentally ran other drivers off the road, perhaps from being distracted by the open pornographic magazines that were in his front seat. And on a January afternoon, motorist Stephen Nielsen, 38, was stopped and finally awakened by Suffolk County, N.Y., police, who saw him driving 40 mph on the Long Island Expressway with eyes closed and mouth agape.

Least Competent People

-- A familiar definition of "insanity" (attributed to Albert Einstein) is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. Donald E. Neff, 38, of Pleasant Township, Ohio, launched his 27-foot boat in the Portage River to access Lake Erie on Nov. 12, but it ran aground, and Neff required a Coast Guard rescue. Despite warnings to wait for higher tide, Neff got another boat the next day and set out again. He of course ran the second boat aground and had to be re-rescued. Two days later, he persuaded a friend to take him out, but naturally the friend's boat ran aground, requiring the Coast Guard once again. Officials were contemplating as many as seven criminal charges against Neff.

-- On Super Bowl Sunday, deputies in Sheridan, Colo., found a car with its windows blown out, its doors bulging outward and the roof bent upward about a foot. The license plate led to Norman Frey, 46, who admitted that he had been on his way to a football party with a balloon filled with acetylene, which he planned to explode in celebration. However, the balloon ignited, perhaps by static electricity from the back seat, and Frey and a companion suffered shrapnel wounds.

How Researchers Spend Their Time

(1) Documenting menopause in gorillas (at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, to show that not just humans experience menopause) (December). (2) Studying whether hamsters are happy or depressed (an Ohio State University project to determine whether non-humans experience seasonal affective disorder) (January). (3) Finding the gene for ear wax (conclusion: Africans' and Europeans' ear wax tends to be wetter, and that among East Asians drier, with other Asians' wax about midway between, though the Nagasaki University researchers failed to learn much else) (January).

Update

In July 2005, News of the Weird reported that former Florida judge Gary Graham had been charged with child molesting, based on statements by a former girlfriend, and as an added touch, the woman had described Graham's insistence that she present herself for sex in pigtails and with paint-on freckles, to give the effect of a young girl. In February 2006, a judge in Inverness, Fla., dropped all the charges after the ex-girlfriend admitted that she made everything up because she was angry.

(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com (or www.NewsoftheWeird.com). Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

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