News of the Weird

Week of January 31, 2010


What Recession? A December USA Today analysis revealed that during the first 18 months of the recent recession, beginning December 2007, the number of federal employees with six-figure salaries shot up from 14 percent of the federal workforce to 19 percent. Defense Department civilian executives earning more than $150,000 went from 1,868 to more than 10,000, and the Department of Transportation, which had only one person earning $170,000 in December 2007, now has 1,690. The average federal salary is $71,206, compared with the private sector's $40,331.

Compelling Explanations

-- Being the first licensed male prostitute in Nevada (and thus the U.S.), explained "Markus" in a January interview for Details magazine, is to him "a civil rights thing." "It's just the same as when Rosa Parks decided to sit at the front (of the bus) instead of the back."

-- Lame: (1) Ex-convict John Stephens told a Floyd County (Ind.) judge in December that he had a full-time job and intended to turn his life around, but had slipped when he tried to rob the Your Community Bank. "If I hadn't been watching the news and seeing (other successful) bank robberies," he said, he wouldn't have been tempted. He said he was especially impressed by one serial robber, who had made it look easy by vaulting over banks' counters. (2) In Kansas City, Mo., in December, the mother of Charles Irving tried to protect her 27-year-old son from a charge of being a felon in possession of a gun. She told police (without success) that he had needed the gun to protect her from vampires.

-- Rod Jetton, a former speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives and creator of Common Sense Conservative Consulting, LLC, was charged with felony assault in December after visiting a woman in her home in Sikeston, apparently for a sexual encounter. The woman later charged that Jetton punched her in the head and choked her into unconsciousness as his idea of foreplay, but Jetton said the "assault" was consensual, in that she was to utter a pre-arranged "safe word (phrase)" if things got too rough and that he would have immediately stopped. Jetton told police that the woman never spoke the agreed-on phrase "green balloons."


-- (1) Copenhagen, one of the "greenest" cities in the world, endured an added 41,000 extra tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent in December during the 11-day "climate summit." The 15,000 delegates required 2,000 limousines (only five of which were electric or hybrid) to get around town, and the world leaders arrived and departed in 140 private jets, some of which had to be "parked" overnight in Sweden because of airport congestion. (2) In December, Obama administration officials, seeking to fulfill a campaign pledge of a more open federal government, held a multi-agency training session in Washington, D.C., on the Freedom of Information Act. The meeting was closed to the public.

-- A central purpose of the California Milk Board is to convince consumers to buy local dairy products to keep the spending in-state to help California's farmers, but the board acknowledged in November that its promotion campaign's advertising contract had gone to an agency in New Zealand. Said a board official: "We have a ... responsibility to spend (taxpayers') hard-earned dollars as efficiently as we can."

Why Africans Remain Impoverished

-- The huge, $27 million statue ("African Renaissance") being built in Dakar, Senegal, was conceived to boost tourism and be a point of African pride, acting as a magnet for visitors and museum-goers. Problems have arisen (the statue was built by North Korean labor, has no distinct African theme, and features a female who reveals perhaps too much thigh). However, according to a November BBC News dispatch, Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade remains optimistic and has declared that, though the concept was his idea, he personally will magnanimously take only 35 percent of the revenue streams generated from visitors.

-- By 2004 presidential proclamation and 2007 statute, the U.S. government made it clear that no foreign official or family members would be allowed into the country if they are "involved in corruption" regarding oil or other natural resources in their home countries. However, as The New York Times reported in November, Equatorial Guinea's oil minister (and son of its president) owns a $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., that he visits regularly in his Gulfstream jet even though the U.S. Justice Department regards him as a major agent of corruption. (U.S. companies manage Equatorial Guinea's oil production, and the State Department is reluctant to challenge the country, according to officials cited by the Times.)

Fine Points of the Law

In November, Powhatan County, Va., prosecutors dismissed charges against five corrections officers despite evidence that they were involved in inappropriately fondling a K-9 service dog. During training, officers are expected to "bond" with their dogs, and one of the men was seen "touching the dog's penis with his hand," according to a prosecutor. However, Virginia law requires that the state prove "cruelty" to the dog, and the prosecutor, after consulting with veterinarians, concluded that he could not win the case.

Creme de la Weird

Russell Vanderwerf, 44, an agent of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was arrested in Metairie, La., in December and charged with damaging property while staying at the Residence Inn hotel. According to police, Vanderwerf had removed the bedroom door to his suite and in its place installed a plywood plank which contained a hole at about pelvis level that had been rimmed in duct tape and which the arresting deputy said appeared to be used "in some sort of sexual act." Another guest told police that numerous young men had been entering and exiting Vanderwerf's room.

Redneck Crime

(1) In Morehead, Ky., in December, two men, ages 44 and 18, were charged with theft for allegedly swiping an 18-inch-long bearded dragon lizard from the Eagles Landing Pet Hospital and trying, in two beverage stores, to exchange it for liquor. (2) Daniel Gable, 61, was arrested for breaking and entering a neighbor's apartment in Fargo, N.D., in December. He had triggered the resident's "burglar alarm," which consisted of the stack of empty beer cans the resident places just inside his front door every night. (3) Lawyer Christopher Carroll was charged with misdemeanor battery in December for forcefully belly-bumping lawyer Jonathan Carbary during a courthouse hallway argument in St. Charles Township, Ill. Carroll said it was an accident: "We're both obese, middle-aged men."


President Obama's figurine was expected to lead in sales for the second straight year in the traditional "caganer" craft industry in Spain's Catalonia region. As News of the Weird reported in 2008, the popular statuettes are typically modeled on famous people, each with pants down, squatting to answer a call of nature. They are ubiquitous in Nativity scenes, playfully hidden to encourage children's where's-waldo-type guessing, and believed to symbolize "equality" through the universality of bodily functions. Another figurine expected to do well this season is the brand-new Queen Elizabeth.

A News of the Weird Classic (September 1993)

In August 1993, Pentecostal preacher Sammy Rodriguez, 29, and 19 relatives from Floydada, Texas, set out in one vehicle on a pilgrimage, but as they passed through Vinton, La., Rodriguez sped away from police trying to make a traffic stop. When the chase ended, police discovered that all 20 people in the vehicle were naked. Rodriguez explained that the Holy Spirit had ordered him and his family on a journey and that they were to leave behind all possessions (supposedly to confuse Satan), which Rodriguez took to mean clothing, also. He pleaded guilty to the traffic charge, and, with donated clothing, the group went on their way.

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