News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF APRIL 22, 2007


Afghan nationals who work at NATO's Kandahar Airfield must use their own "separate but equal" toilet facilities, according to a March dispatch in Toronto's Globe & Mail. The American officer in charge of administrative contracts said the policy was based on hygiene, in that some locals customarily stand on toilet seats and then squat down, which he said creates unusual messes, but also on some Muslims' carelessness in cleaning themselves in preparation for prayer, when their water bottles sometimes fall in and have to be fished out.

Animal Awesomeness

-- In April, two Labrador retrievers (Lucky and Flo) sniffed out another shipment of pirated DVDs (worth about $435,000) in a building in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. It was at least the second such bust since mid-March, when the U.S. Motion Picture Association of America loaned the dogs to Malaysian authorities because they can detect the polycarbonate and unique chemicals in the discs. So successful are Lucky and Flo that an unspecified crime gang has reportedly put out a contract on them.

-- (1) Ada Barak's spa in the northern Israeli town of Talmey El'Azar features a "snake massage" for the equivalent of $70, for which six king snakes or milk snakes slither over the client's body (a therapy said not to be stress-increasing, but stress-reducing, according to a January Reuters dispatch). (2) Another January Reuters dispatch, from Antwerp, Belgium, reported that doctors at the city's Aquatopia animal showcase had scheduled surgery to relieve Mozart, the iguana, of his painful priapism in one of his two functional penises.

-- Veterinarians in Tallahassee, Fla., were enthralled in January when a duck, "killed" by a hunter and placed in his freezer for two days, suddenly sprang to life and was rushed into surgery at Goose Creek Wildlife Sanctuary to repair its leg and wing. Then, on the operating table, the duck (named "Perky" by that time) once again flat-lined, only to spring back to life a second time.

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- American researchers in West Africa believe they've found the first instance of an animal (other than humans) building a multi-step weapon, after observing wild chimpanzees grab sticks from 1 to 4 feet long, sharpen the ends with their teeth, and murderously jab them into deep tree hollows where delicious bush babies may be nesting. Writing in the journal Current Biology, the team even reported observing the chimps tasting the tips after the stabs, to ascertain whether they had actually located a prey. (One of the researchers said the ferocity of the jabbing reminded her of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho.")

-- Researchers at the Second University of Naples (Caserta, Italy) recently reported the case of a 65-year-old man who, because of damage to the fronto-temporal region of his brain, habitually assumes an identity appropriate to whatever setting he finds himself in (e.g., a doctor when he's around doctors, a bartender when in a bar), a behavior reminiscent of the Woody Allen character Zelig. The researchers said the man lacks awareness about his tendency to switch roles and in fact suffers from amnesia about his life since the brain damage, according to a March report by the British Psychological Society.

New Product Launches

(1) A $60,000 mattress from the Swedish manufacturer Hastens, introduced to the United States recently for people who (according to the advertising) might believe that they're so special that they're entitled to a luxuriously rejuvenating night's sleep; and (2) Holy Drinking Water in half-liter bottles, from Wayne Enterprises of Linden, Calif., which supposedly obtained blessings from Catholic and Anglican priests for the ordinary purified water.

We Must Never Offend Anyone

According to a report commissioned by Britain's Department of Education and Skills, some history teachers have dropped references to the Holocaust (and the 11th-century Crusades) out of fear that the regular history curriculum might confuse or anger Muslim students who have been taught differently in local mosques (according to an April story in London's Daily Mail). And London's Daily Telegraph reported in March that the head teacher at a school in Huddersfield had changed the June student festival production of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs" to "The Three Little Puppies," out of fear that Muslim children would be uncomfortable singing "pig" references. (A local Muslim spokesman immediately condemned the change as unnecessary, and the school overruled the teacher.)

Can't Stop the Greed

The three Kentucky lawyers who won $200 million for their clients in a 2001 settlement with the manufacturer of the diet drug phen-fen, and whose contract called for a maximum of one-third commission (about $67 million) actually took $59 million more than that, according to clients who testified before a federal grand jury in March, which is expected to indict the lawyers soon for fraud, according to a New York Times dispatch. The lawyers had explained that they were taking an extra $20 million because they had decided to create a "charity" and were simply entitled to the other $39 million because they had to work extra hard. The Kentucky bar association has suspended the lawyers.

People With Issues

Army drill sergeant Edmundo Estrada, 35, was arraigned in January in Hampton, Va., on charges of indecent assault, on a complaint by a young subordinate who said Estrada prescribed a confidence-building regimen in which the two men role-played from a pornographic movie, with the trainee dressing as a Superman character and Estrada performing sexual acts on him. According to the arrest affidavit, when Estrada "torture(d)" the trainee, the man was to respond by "moaning." (Another trainee accused Estrada of trying to photograph his squad bare-chested, claiming he needed to document their physical growth.)

Least Competent Restaurant Management

Finally, after four weeks of one customer's walking out on a dinner check, the staff of an O'Charley's restaurant in Bloomington, Ind., caught him. The diner had appeared on four consecutive Wednesdays nights, ordered two gin and tonics each time, then eaten a rib-eye steak each time, then asked to use the rest room each time, and then walked out on the same $25.96 tab each time. On March 28, the staff finally wised up and waited for him outside as he again tried to sneak out, and he was arrested.


As a result of a 2003 traffic stop in Ohio, Catherine Donkers was convicted of a child-seat-restraint violation (specifically, holding her baby in her lap for breast-feeding while driving), but she appealed, and in April 2007, a court ruled in her favor. The story made News of the Weird in 2003 because Donkers' husband, Brad Barnhill, who was not in the car, demanded that he be charged instead because his First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty religion teaches that the husband must take responsibility for all of his wife's public actions (especially when the "public action" involves "the Beast," which is what the religion calls "government").

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (81) Preschoolers and first-graders who happen to find their parents' drug stashes and innocently bring them to school, sometimes even for show-and-tell-type sessions, as happened in March in Shreveport, La., when a first-grader brought in crack cocaine that might have been his 20-year-old mother's. And (82) people who call in fake bomb threats for the most selfish of reasons, such as to delay an airline takeoff that they're running late for, or to postpone a school exam they're not prepared for, or to get off work, as Brandy Killin, 26, allegedly did in Kearney, Neb., in March, to her employer First National Omaha.

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

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