News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JULY 9, 2006


Ron "King Suki" King won the U.S. checkers championship in June in Medina, Ohio, claiming the $6,000 first prize by emerging from a field of 41 competitors whose intensity generally rivals that of more popular and complex games. King, the world "free style" champion, is known as the Muhammad Ali of checkers for trash-talking his opponents. Also competing was another world champion (in a form of checkers in which the first three moves are always at random), Alex "The Mad Russian" Moiseyev, who assured an Agence France-Presse reporter that, as in chess, the top players have to think 10 moves ahead.

Cultural Diversity

-- The Gilgit tribe beat Chitral, 9-6, this year in the annual, bloody, take-no-prisoners, referee-less polo match on a remote, 2-mile-high field on a mountain in Pakistan, an event that, despite its viciousness, some observers credit with forestalling actual war between the tribes. According to a May dispatch in ESPN The Magazine, clubbing of opponents is rampant; horses are treated more reverently than players; and when a star player was thrown and landed on his head, motionless and thought perhaps even to be dead, fans screamed for him to be cleared from the field quickly so the match could continue. (He only had a broken neck and concussion.)

-- Unique Responses to Danger: (1) In May, just after bird flu was discovered in Ivory Coast, hundreds of young people flocked to Abidjan's night clubs to taunt the disease with a new dance imitating a chicken in the throes of death, according to a Reuters dispatch ("leaning backward, shaking (the) wrists, arms and legs ... with a loud clucking sound"). (2) As volcanologists warned of the possible eruption of Indonesia's Mount Merapi in May, nearby farmers continued to listen instead to the mountain's spirits and to continue their rituals and offerings to ward off an eruption, according to an NBC News report. In one region, to preserve the mountain's tranquility, men "gather naked in groups late at night and run in circles around their villages."

Questionable Judgments

-- In May, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruled that Scott Panetti remains eligible for execution in Texas despite his delusional and schizoaffective disorders and the opinion of one law professor that Panetti is the "gold-plated craziest" death-row inmate he'd ever seen. Charged with murder after having been drug-addicted since childhood and in mental institutions 14 times, Panetti was nonetheless permitted by his trial judge to act as his own lawyer (and employed a "strategy" of claiming to be under the control of a "Sarge Ironhorse"), and not surprisingly, he lost the case.

-- Cleveland judge Eileen Gallagher abruptly dismissed child-rape charges against Norman Craig, 22, in June when the prosecutor was 45 minutes late for a hearing, and she further scolded the lawyer, warning him, "Don't treat me like a punk."

-- After examining 28 cases in which pro athletes received "community service" sentences for crimes, USA Today found in May that in 24 of them, the "punishment" consisted merely of ceremonial celebrity duties, even though the underlying crimes were serious (included assault, statutory rape, weapons violations and vehicular homicide). One pro basketball player, convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 19, served his 100 hours of community service by being a guest counselor at a youth basketball camp (and included 27 hours' travel time in the 100).

Cake, Ice Cream and Kwame Holman

Troy and Jennifer Schally disclosed in June that their son Henry had chosen, among several possibilities as the theme for his third birthday party, PBS's "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," and the Schallys supplied a birthday cake with a photo of the show's correspondents and a periodic playing of its theme music. According to a Washington Post report, Lehrer sent along an autographed photo, signed in the name Henry calls him, "Jimmy Jimmy BoBo."

People Different From Us

On many weekends a year in parks in the Washington-Baltimore area, 100 or more people gather in medieval costumes and wield soft weapons to wage battle in the 20-year-old Darkon Wargaming Club, according to a May report in Baltimore City Paper. Players point out that their hobby is simply of a piece with historical-battle video games and feature films, but still acknowledge the whimsy. Said a club manager (who is the wife of the player "Shalor" of the "Bloody Axe Mercenary Company"), on seeing the games for the first time: "I didn't want to get out of the car. I thought it was the dorkiest thing I'd ever seen. And 12 years later, of course, I'm running the thing." (An acclaimed documentary film on the club, "Darkon," has just been released.)

Least Competent Criminals

-- Oops! (1) Richard and Stephanie North were arrested in April and charged as the ones who had earlier taken a big-screen TV from an appliance store in Middletown, N.Y. Police had stopped their car on suspicion because a rear door was propped open to accommodate the huge TV set sticking out of the back seat. (2) Richard Costello, 29, was arrested in Clearwater, Fla., in May and charged with stealing motorcycle parts after police recovered photos of the parts, which they suspect were snapped by Costello. At the bottom of each photo, the photographer's bare toes are visible and display the tattoos "white" and "trash," matching Costello's own tattooed toes.

-- William Collins, 37, was arrested in Baldwin Place, N.Y., in June and charged with DUI even though his car wasn't moving. According to police, Collins was passed out drunk in the driver's seat of the locked car, in "park," with his body positioned so that the gas pedal was depressed, causing the engine to race and start to overheat. Collins was so unresponsive that only when police broke a window did he awaken and notice them.

The March of Science

-- (1) Researchers from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center announced in May that they had grown a fully functional, artificial penis from a rabbit (using his own genes), which they hoped would lead to future development of a human penis, for men with birth defects, body trauma or cancer. (2) Ambreed New Zealand introduced in June a go-cart-like machine for ranchers to gather sperm from bulls. A driver maneuvers the vehicle, designed to resemble a cow, so that the bull can mount it. The driver waits patiently until the bull is done and then drives away with the sperm so that manual extraction is no longer required.

Religion in Crisis

-- (1) Pastor John Sabbath of the Christ Christian Center, angry at the denial of funding by the Ontario (Calif.) City Council, announced at a June meeting that he was placing a curse on City Manager Greg Devereaux and his family. (2) And in June, the Motion Picture Association of America, for the first time ever, announced that it was rating a film PG (Parental Guidance) not for any sex, violence or bad language, but just because it is too openly religious (the film "Facing the Giants," starring Georgia preacher Alex Kendrick).

-- Religious Entrepreneurship: (1) Many British churches have recently installed the new Hymnal Plus, a karaoke machine to help congregations recite verses and sing hymns (including risky tunes, such as a disco version of "Amazing Grace"). (2) A violent video game based on the evangelical "Left Behind" novels, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," was introduced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in May, and features the Tribulation Force bloodily battling the army of the Antichrist. Reviews have been severely mixed (either a positive step to spiritualize the video games culture, or grotesque violence seemingly sanctioned under the cover of the Bible).

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

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