News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

Week of August 9, 2009


A Whiff of Injustice: William Dillon was released in November after 26 years in prison when a DNA test ruled him out as the murderer. He was the second Florida man recently freed by DNA after being positively identified at trial by a star police dog, Harass II, whose trainer Bill Preston had sworn could amazingly track scents through water and after months of site contamination. In June, the Innocence Project of Florida said as many as 60 other convicts might have been "identified" by Harass II. According to an Orlando Sentinel report, only one judge (who's now retired) thought to actually test Harass II's ability in a courtroom, and he wrote that the dog failed badly.

Great Art!

-- "If I had portrayed Hitler in his underpants," explained Belgian artist Jan Bucquoy at the opening of his museum in July in Brussels, "there would not have been a war." Bucquoy has displayed, in glass cases, the drawers of prominent Belgians, but also exhibits "Warhol-type" drawings of underwear-clad celebrities as he imagines them (like Margaret Thatcher). As Bucquoy told Reuters: "If you are scared of someone, just imagine them in their underpants. The hierarchy will fall." Whose knickers does the artist most covet? France's First Lady Carla Bruni's would be nice, he said, but even better, the pope's.

-- Another Belgian artist, Jacques Charlier, was rejected by the judges of the Venice Biennale gala when he submitted his poster-sized sketches of other artists' genitals idiosyncratically drawn to suggest whose belong to whom. For example, Charlier's representation of the artist Christo (famous for "wrapping" in cloth panels and ribbons such locations as New York City's Central Park) depicts genitals wrapped up to resemble a parcel. The artists are not named, and guessing their identities from the sketches is part of the show, with prizes for guests who can name 20 of the 100 pieces.

-- British Broadcasting Corp. announced in May that it would "revive an art form" by dispatching a poet to the front lines in Afghanistan to embed with UK troops. BBC selected prominent poet Simon Armitage to mark "a new era in war poetry for the 21st century."

Government in Action!

-- Small Town Management: (1) After haggling for a while at its June 16 meeting, the county board in Lincoln, Neb., finally voted, 2-1, to reimburse Shum Darwin for his pants, which went missing at the jail after Darwin was arrested. The city's liability was clear; the debate was about whether the pants were worth $12 or $10. (2) The city council of Brooksville, Fla., by 4-1, adopted an appearance policy in June that requires all municipal employees to wear underwear while on the clock and to make sure it is not visible.

-- Small-Town Politics: In June, the city council of Indian Trail Town, N.C., voted, 4-1, to declare Mayor John Quinn's comments about the council in the town newsletter "whiny" and to ban his remarks from subsequent issues and from the town Web site. The new policy also prohibits Mayor Quinn from talking to any municipal employee unless the town manager is at his side, and requires Quinn to get express permission to enter the town hall except for places open to the general public.

-- An investigation by the U.K. TV channel More4 revealed in June that local U.K. councils spend the equivalent of $80 million a year translating their documents into dozens of languages in the cause of "fairness," even obscure languages that few residents speak, and even given evidence that, in dozens of cases, no one has ever tried to access the documents. Translations were found in Albanian, Bengali, Kurdish, Somali, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sierra Leonean Creole, Karen (eastern Burma) and Ga (Ghana), among others.

Urban Legends Come to Life

In the American version (which actually happened at least once, in Bucks County, Pa., in the 1980s), cynical cops use a photocopier "connected" by a crude wire to the suspect, and a sheet of "He's Lying" paper in the output tray, as a "lie detector" test. In July, the Tel Aviv, Israel, Police Department used a "memory machine" to change the mind of a murder suspect who swore he could not remember anything about the night of the crime. Hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine, the perp was "informed" that certain squiggles on the paper proved that he did indeed remember and must be hiding details. Andrei Polokhin, 47, then confessed and was charged with fatally stabbing his neighbor.

Creme de la Weird

David Shayler, 43, used to be a British MI5 intelligence officer, but apparently went downhill after a controversy with superiors and today lives as Delores Kent, in full female dress, and believes "in (his) heart" that he is the Messiah who will save mankind from its upcoming 2012 doomsday by turning billions of people on to the virtues of hemp, which is "perfectly balanced ... full of omega-3, -6, and -9 to help muscles grow and repair." Shayler/Kent also believes that Americans staged Sept. 11 and that Jesus Christ was, like him, a transvestite.

Least Competent People

(1) Least Competent Cops: Officers in Forrest City, Ark., arrested Lawrence Harden Jr. in June for robbing a liquor store. They cuffed him, shackled him, and head-stuffed him into their SUV, but he got out and ran away. Police dogs found Harden an hour later, and he was re-cuffed, re-shackled and re-head-stuffed into a squad car. He got out again and ran away (but was caught again and finally jailed). (2) Least Competent Priest: In a soon-to-be-released memoir, retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, Wis., claims that, at first, he had no idea that priests' sexual abuse of young boys was a crime. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Weakland writes, "We all considered sexual abuse of minors as (only) a moral evil."

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird's favorite animal was called "heroic" by Argentine researchers in a July issue of the journal Paleontology. Had it not been for high-performance South American scarab dung beetles, they wrote, gargantuan prehistoric mammals would have choked vast areas of the continent knee-deep in manure. The researchers found that, by burying tennis-ball-sized "food supplies" for their young, the beetles also improved surface sanitation by leaving less dung available for "disease-carrying flies."

The New District of Calamity

For years, News of the Weird has touted the magnificently dysfunctional municipal government of Washington, D.C., as the "District of Calamity," but improvements have been made, and the nation's capital has been overtaken by the disaster that is Detroit. (1) A Detroit News investigation revealed in June that the police department has routinely downgraded obvious "murder" cases, to make the city seem less unsafe. (2) A Detroit Public Schools auditor reported in June that the system has been issuing regular paychecks to 257 nonexistent employees. (3) City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the wife of a U.S. congressman, pleaded guilty in June to accepting a cash bribe for a council vote. (4) A May Detroit Free Press survey revealed that the population of three large Detroit jails has mysteriously declined, which it suggested was because police have simply stopped investigating certain crimes.

A News of the Weird Classic (June 1995)

In early 1995, Chesapeake, Va., inmate Robert Lee Brock filed a $5 million lawsuit against Robert Lee Brock -- accusing himself of violating his own religious beliefs and his own civil rights by getting himself drunk enough to engage in the various crimes that put him behind bars. He wrote: "I want to pay myself five million dollars (for being made to suffer from this breach of rights) but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can't work and am a ward of the state." (The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.)

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