News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MAY 27, 2007


Atrocities, starvation and disease continue in the Darfur region of Sudan as humanitarians try out inventive strategies to get the world's attention. Nashville, Tenn., clothing designer Deborah Denson, for example, sells purple "Panties for Peace," earmarking half the proceeds for Darfur relief. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has written tirelessly since 2004 on the subhuman brutality in Darfur, lamented in a May column that Americans still seem less concerned about the rapes and murders of thousands of children there than, for example, about the 2005 plight of the "Pale Male" hawk evicted from a ledge on a luxury high-rise in New York City, and pointedly suggested that Darfur's victims adopt a puppy as their symbol. Citing research collected by the University of Oregon's Paul Slovic, Kristof imagined a picture of a lovable, tortured, Darfur dog as having a better chance of bringing donations and a demand to stop the killing.

Recurring Themes

NOTE: As evidence that weird news keeps repeating itself, this week's collection consists of recent instances of people doing the same old things that we've seen before in News of the Weird.

-- Fake police officers have graced News of the Weird (most recently in 2006) for pulling motorists over for officious scoldings on traffic safety, but a March 20 stop in Boca Raton, Fla., by an imitation, off-duty sheriff's deputy was special. He was riding with his girlfriend when he decided to stop a discourteous motorist, and when a real cop later showed up, the "deputy" was revealed to be not a cop and also not a "he." Rachel Otto, 21, wore her hair short on top and shaved on the sides, and her outing as a woman apparently shocked the girlfriend, who had been living with Otto for a week. Police said Otto's rap sheet included nine arrests for impersonating police officers.

-- Wrongly convicted defendants are freed from prisons regularly now, some after many years' incarceration, and lawsuits against the legal system that put them there are proliferating. Three men in Birmingham, England, who were recently freed after, respectively, 18, 18 and 11 years in prison for murders, were (in separate trials) awarded a total of 2.16 million British pounds (about $4.2 million), but the Court of Appeal ruled in March that they will have to give 25 percent back to the government as compensation for their "room and board," i.e., tiny cells and prison food, during all those years.

-- News of the Weird has informed readers several times of the claims by Transcendental Meditation practitioners that crime and war could be stopped cold by the channeling of huge amounts of human psychic energy into productive thought. (The movie director David Lynch led such a project in 2005.) In April 2007, Needham, Mass., psychiatrist Eric Leskowitz told reporters that he and his cousin are making a documentary film, borrowing the TM principle to measure the impact of Fenway Park fans' creating unified fields of brain waves to carry the Boston Red Sox to victory.

-- Men accusing women of "stealing" their sperm appeared in a pair of 2005 stories, including that of a Chicago doctor who impregnated herself with her doctor-boyfriend's sperm (from oral sex). (He sued her for theft, but an appeals court called the sperm a "gift.") In a less spectacular lawsuit filed in March 2007 in New York City, Quoc Pham charged that girlfriend Neli Petkova had exploited him to father a baby, and that as soon as she was pregnant, she discarded him, publicly terming him sexually inadequate and allegedly announcing that she had met another man, who "could make her cervix orgasmic just by thinking." Pham wants $1 million and visitation rights to the now-3-year-old.\

-- Jewelry store thieves sometimes swallow their stash at the scene to facilitate their getaway, but police now routinely wait out such suspects, monitoring the toilets until the "evidence" passes naturally (most recently reported in News of the Weird in 2001). Police in Canton, Ohio, arrested four men in March 2007, reasonably certain that one of them had swallowed a 2-carat ring worth about $30,000. After sifting through the toilets, police recovered the ring the next day, with the store's price tag still on it.

-- Japan's suicide rate is high, with death leaps among the most popular methods. In April in Tokyo, an 18-year-old woman jumped to her death from a nine-story building, but she landed on a 60-year-old man walking by. He suffered only bruises, as did a 27-year-old pedestrian in May 2000 when a 39-year-old suicider landed on him in Tokyo. (However, in March 2000, in Taichung, Taiwan, both the suicidal jumper and the unlucky pedestrian were killed).

-- It was only three months ago that News of the Weird reported that a man vandalizing a church cemetery in Lilburn, Ga., by knocking over gravestones had one fall on him, crushing his leg and causing him to wail for two hours in the middle of the night before he was rescued. On May 6, at Calumet Park Cemetery in Merrillville, Ind., Michael Schreiber, 22, couldn't wail because he was unconscious, with two broken legs, the victim of a half-ton gravestone that fell on him after he had knocked 14 over.

-- When an evangelical parishioner comes to the altar to receive "the spirit of the Lord" and falls backward, church-supplied "catchers" ease them to the floor, usually. Judith Dadd's lawsuit against Mount Hope Church went to trial near Lansing, Mich., at press time, as she sought compensation for head trauma and lacerations after no one was there to break her fall. (In a 1995 incident at a tent revival in Lafayette Parish, La., News of the Weird reported that the first overcome parishioner was caught, but a second, who was apparently overcome too quickly, landed hard on the first woman and broke three of her ribs.)

-- Medical literature reports, from time to time, patients with spiders nesting in their ears, and in May in Albany, Ore., Dr. David Irvine said that he chased a spider the size of a pencil eraser from the ear of 9-year-old Jesse Courtney (and then recovered a dead spider from his other ear.) Jesse thought the whole thing was cool and showed off the spiders in school. In a 1993 News of the Weird story, a British machinist with bad earaches was found to have a pregnant spider living in his ear, but he told a reporter afterward that he had grown fond of the spider and intended to keep her as a pet.

-- Amazingly, criminals on the lam for serious crimes still can't stop calling attention to themselves for the silliest of reasons (such as minor traffic infractions like having expired tags or a broken tail light). In San Diego in March, Larenzo Dixon, 22, was arrested at a downtown transit station during a police crackdown on jaywalkers. A routine check of the illegal street-crosser turned up a murder warrant on Dixon from Louisiana.

-- In January, a judge in Benton County, Ore., acquitted a 46-year-old man of sexually abusing his 10-year-old stepdaughter after he told the judge that he suffers from "parasomnia" and sometimes commits acts that appear volitional but during which he is actually sound asleep. Men in Canada and Great Britain in 2005 were also acquitted of sexual assault after courts heard medical testimony about what is now called "sexsomnia."

-- Nigerian Internet scams were thought for years to be so transparently fraudulent that they would work only on the very gullible, who would send thousands of dollars overseas in the naive expectation of receiving millions in return. However, it was also too good to pass up for a professional money manager, the longtime treasurer of Alcona County, Mich., Thomas Katona, who admitted in court in January 2007 that he had lost $1.25 million of taxpayer money, plus his own life's savings, in a Nigerian scam.

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