News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Eventually, robots will have to be given legal rights (and accept certain responsibilities) if advances in artificial intelligence (AI) continue to create sensitive quasi-organisms, according to a paper solicited for Sir David King, the UK's chief scientist. According to one AI researcher, "If (robots are) granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time." A December Financial Times report on the paper noted that robots might also have to pay taxes and be available for military service. (Some of the ideas in the paper track visions described years ago by writer Isaac Asimov.)

Government in Action!

-- Many voters, and critics in both parties, chided the "do-nothing" 109th Congress (2005-2006) as a body tied up in partisanship and divisiveness. However, the Congress did manage to pass 383 pieces of legislation, except that almost 100 of those laws were merely authorizations to name post offices and other federal structures after famous Americans (such as Ray Charles, Ava Gardner and Karl Malden).

-- Politicians in the German states of Lower Saxony and Bavaria proposed in December to criminalize "cruel" violent acts in video games when they are directed at "humans" or "human-looking characters." Bavarian interior minister Gunther Beckstein pointed to a November incident in which an 18-year-old player of the violent game "Counter Strike" went to a school, shot 37 people, and then killed himself.

-- Following a military coup in November, Fiji's army chief Frank Bainimarama took over and placed classified ads in local newspapers to seek candidates to be ministers and senior civil servants. The minimum qualifications: no criminal record and not to be bankrupt. And Nigeria's People's Democratic Party started screening candidates in December to run for president this year, ranking applicants on the following criteria: patriotism (10 percent), integrity (15), ethnic neutrality (10), knowledge of law (10), tolerance (5), transparency (10), knowledge of development (10) and leadership qualities (15). (Arithmetic ability was not a criterion.)

Police Blotter

-- From the Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz., 12-3-06): "About 1,800 square feet of insulation were reported stolen from the underside of a house on the 5100 block of East Hickory Drive. The victim said the insulation disappeared sometime between September and this week. She said she was having trouble keeping her house warm as the weather got colder."

-- Oops: John Beacham of the Anti-War Coalition in Chicago said he has suspected for a while that police had been spying on his organization, but he was obviously proved wrong when the coalition canceled, well in advance, a planned Oct. 28 demonstration downtown. Unaware of the cancellation, hundreds of police officers lined the streets around the protest area, hoping to prevent the recurrence of a wild demonstration in 2003. Deputy police superintendent Charles Williams blamed the coalition for not keeping the department informed.

Cliches Come to Life

-- The Texas Ethics Commission ruled in November that a public official in the Lone Star state, receiving money as a gift such as from a lobbyist, need disclose only that he received "a check" or "currency" and need not reveal the actual amount of money. Said the district attorney in Austin, who was outraged by the ruling, it is now "perfectly legal to report the gift of 'a wheelbarrow' without reporting that the wheelbarrow was filled with cash."

Bright Ideas

-- Scamming the Horny Panda: One trick that zookeepers have used to get male pandas interested in mating with dowdier females (according to a December dispatch from Sichuan, China, in Australia's The Age) is to let an attractive female roam around a pen, leaving her scent, and then, in darkness, with the male in the pen and frisky at the scent, to introduce the less attractive female into the pen, back-end first, so that the pre-excited male will quickly begin copulating. Said zookeeper Zhang Hemin, "When the males find out (that they've just mated with unintended partners), they get very angry and start fighting the female. We have had to use firecrackers and a water hose to separate them."

-- Rules! (1) Sixty years after Indiana abolished gambling and wrecked the economy of the resort town of French Lick, the state brought it back, allowing casinos, but they had to be located on water and not the state's dry land. Developers of the French Lick Springs Resort thus spent $382 million on a plush "riverboat" casino on a manmade lake barely larger than the boat, and it opened in November. (2) Derek Ogley, 70, had just been discharged from Tameside General Hospital in Ashton, England, in November, but doubled over in pain in the waiting room (eventually diagnosed with pancreatitis). Nurses informed Ogley's family they would have to call 999 (the UK's 911) or drive him around to the emergency entrance about three minutes away, because, since he had been discharged, rules prevented them from treating him.

Creme de la Weird

People Disrespecting Their Bodies: John Sheehan, 33, was arrested in November, nude, near the rapid-transit station in El Cerrito, Calif., and when asked if he was carrying contraband, admitted that he had a "screwdriver" in his rectum. (Police treated the item as a potential weapon, training guns on him while he removed the 6-inch-long "awl" wrapped in electrical tape.) And a week later, in Monkwearmouth, England, a 22-year-old Iraq-war veteran told buddies he was bored and, imitating a prank from a "Jackass" movie, inserted a firework "up his backside," according to a Daily Mail story, and lit it. When it exploded, he was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital with a scorched colon and other serious injuries.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has previously mentioned how difficult some Japanese and Singaporean people find it to smile, even when their jobs depend on it, and Chinese people preparing for the 2008 Olympics are having similar problems turning Beijing into a "city of smiles," as the campaign is called. Said one man attending a class on smiling: "At first, I thought (it might be) difficult to smile after you became tired. But later I realized if you don't treat smiling as ... work ... you may find it very easy to smile all the time." (In popular literature in China, people who smile frequently or for no particular reason are often regarded as either silly or devious.)


Retired ad agency executive James Finegan, 76, plays at least 250 rounds of golf a year at a course near his home in Gladwyne, Pa., and 50 to 60 rounds elsewhere, according to an October Wall Street Journal profile. When not playing golf, he writes books about golf (histories of golf in Philadelphia and of a course in New Jersey, and four books about golf in the British Isles). And in Salt Lake City, county sheriff Aaron Kennard, who was caught by a Salt Lake Tribune reporter playing numerous rounds of golf during working hours in August and September, merely shrugged. "I'm not golfing enough," he said, in that golf helps him relax. He said he'd rather just golf a little than take summer vacations.

Least Competent Parent

-- An unnamed, "well-known Adelaide (Australia) model" was seen screaming, "Where's my baby? Someone's stolen my baby" shortly after she paused while jogging and pushing the 5-month-old's buggy along the city's River Torrens in December. According to a report in Melbourne's The Age newspaper, the woman had stopped to answer a cell-phone call, and when she finally turned back around, the buggy was gone. Unfortunately, it had rolled into the river during the phone call, and the incident ended badly.

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

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