News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 14, 2009


Terrorism Gets Pizzazz: A physical fitness video, purportedly made in April by a U.S.-based al-Qaida operative, gives workout tips to jihadists, urging that they "train as hard as possible" to inflict maximum damage on "the enemies of Allah," according to an ABC News report. Exercises such as crawling long distances on hands and knees are demonstrated by people in flowing robes. The narrator discourages using gyms and fitness centers because of the "un-Islamic" music and "semi-naked" women. And a video released in May, purportedly from al-Qaida in Somalia, features an English-speaking rap singer making a recruitment pitch to U.S. and European youth, including such verses as: "Mortar by mortar / Shell by shell / Only going to stop / When I send them to hell."

Can't Possibly Be True

-- When a son, angry that his father had ordered him to clean up his room, screamed at Dad and threw a plate of food across the dinner table, Dad called 911. The son is 28-year-old Andrew Mizsak, who lives rent-free with his parents in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford, Ohio, and is a member of the Bedford School Board (and whose mom is a city councilwoman). After police arrived, the habitually untidy son apologized and, according to their report, "was sent to his room to clean it. He was crying uncontrollably." Subsequently, the school board punished Andrew by removing two of his duties.

-- When courts in Nashville, Tenn., get too backed up, a local tradition allows judges to appoint well-known local attorneys to act as "special judges" to help clear dockets. According to a months-long investigation by WTVF-TV, broadcast in April, it appears that at least some of the "special judges" used their power largely to dismiss speeding tickets, including at least one instance of a lawyer's dismissing his own client's ticket. The station found that of almost 1,800 speeding tickets dismissed by courts during the time investigated, 1,300 were by the "special judges."

-- The U.S. Air Force has spent an estimated $25 million training combat pilot Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach but is about to discharge him involuntarily because he is gay. Born of military-officer parents, Fehrenbach has earned 30 awards and decorations, with tours flying F-15Es in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and was one of the elite fighters called on to patrol the air space over Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. Also about to be discharged solely for being gay is Army infantry officer Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate and Arabic speaker, who would be (based on a 2005 Government Accounting Office report) at least the 56th gay Arabic linguist to be dismissed from the U.S. military since the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

-- In September 2003, Lisa Strong was hospitalized for a kidney stone, which was not treated properly, and by the time the resultant, massive, life-threatening infections had been dealt with, both her arms and both her legs had been amputated. She filed a lawsuit against the doctors in 2005, but in May 2009, a jury in Broward County, Fla., somehow could not find any fault at all by doctors. (An incredulous Judge Charles Greene reversed the verdict, dismissed the jury and ordered a new trial.)

Unclear on the Concept

London's celebrated high-end restaurant Nobu still serves a bluefin tuna entree for the equivalent of about $51 but is apparently ashamed that it has a fresh inventory ready to carve, according to a May report in the Daily Telegraph. Printed on the menu is this advisory: "Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species -- please ask your server for an alternative."


-- They're Studying What? Where? (1) Doctors and specialists from the New York Psychiatric Institute are in the middle of a two-year investigation, on a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on why gay men have risky sex in Argentina. Researchers visit gay bars nightly in Buenos Aires and question men about their behavior and substance abuse. (2) Wayne State University (Detroit) researchers, operating on a $2.6 million NIH grant, are now "training" prostitutes to drink alcohol responsibly, to reduce the women's willingness to engage in risky sex. However, the training is taking place in Guangxi province, China.

-- Challenges of Geography: (1) In March, China's Minister of Railways, Liu Zhijun, acknowledged that the government has plans for a rail line connecting Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan (which would involve traversing the Taiwan Strait, which is 108 miles across at its narrowest point). (2) The Czech Republic newspaper Lidove Noviny reported in May that, as late as 1975, the communist government of Czechoslovakia was actively planning to dig a tunnel from that landlocked country underneath Austria and the part of Yugoslavia that is now Slovenia, to give it rail access to the Adriatic Sea, 250 miles away. It is not known what the Austrians and the Yugoslavs thought of the idea.

Fine Points of the Law

Kerry Fenton's pub, The Cutting Edge, in Worsbrough, England, initially complied with the 2007 Smoking Act, which prohibits lighting up inside. However, since smoking research is generally carried on indoors, "research" was exempt from the law. Fenton ultimately renamed part of the bar the Smoking Research Centre and allows patrons to smoke provided they fill out questionnaires about their habit. So far, according to a May BBC News report, neither Britain's Home Office nor the local Barnsley council has intervened.

The Aristocrats!

(1) Timothy Martin, 44, was arrested in Federal Way, Wash., in May for felony indecent exposure after he was spotted standing partially nude with a string attached to his penis and, according to police, apparently "manipulating it with the string like a puppet." (2) Two workers at Yellowstone National Park were fired in May after being caught on surveillance video urinating into the Old Faithful geyser.

Least Competent Criminals

-- Police in Indianapolis charged Fifth Third Bank manager Dwayne Roberts, 31, with arson and theft after the failure of his scheme to cover up embezzlement. Police said that Roberts elaborately staged a fire inside a locked vault so that an undeterminable amount of money would burn up, thus perhaps covering his cash shortage. However, after Roberts had set the fire and locked the vault, he realized he had left his keys inside and could not re-open the vault or lock the bank's doors or drive home.

-- Donny Guy, 31, was arrested in Hickory, N.C., in May and charged with burglary of the Captain's Galley Seafood restaurant in a caper caught on surveillance video. Guy was immediately a suspect because he lives in an apartment about 50 yards from the restaurant, and there were two paper trails from the restaurant almost to his front door. The video revealed that, in carrying away the two cash registers in the dark, the burglar failed to notice that the spools of paper in each machine had snagged on something in the restaurant and were unraveling with each step he took.

A News of the Weird Classic (May 2002)

Most Helpful Bureaucrat: When Hermilo Mendez, 28, found himself behind bars on a minor charge in early 2002 in Dilley, Texas, he realized that he finally had time to work on his long-desired divorce and wrote the county clerk in San Antonio to start the paperwork. First, though, he needed the clerk's help, in that he could not remember his wife's name. The couple had married in 1992 after a one-week courtship, and she cleared out shortly afterward. The clerk researched it and informed Mendez that he had been joined in holy matrimony with "Violeta Sanchez Juarez" and that she had apparently long ago returned to Mexico.

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