News of the Weird

Week of March 21, 2010


War Is Hell: The day before British army chef Liam Francis, 26, arrived at his forward operating base in Afghanistan, the Taliban shot down the helicopter ferrying in food rations, and Francis realized he had to make do with supplies on hand. In his pantry were only seasonings, plus hundreds of tins of Spam. For six weeks, until resupply, Francis prepared "sweet and sour Spam," "Spam fritters," "Spam carbonara," "Spam stroganoff" and "stir-fried Spam." He told the Daily Telegraph that he was proud of his work but admitted that "morale improved" when fresh food arrived.

Questionable Obsessions

(1) In November, Jim Bartek, 49, of Maple Heights, Ohio, announced he was ending his streak of 524 consecutive days in which he listened to the album "Nostradamus" by the heavy-metal group Judas Priest. (2) In February, Hilary Taylor, 63, of Great Yarmouth, England, revealed that she had been bequeathed her uncle Ken Strickland's collection of 3,000 watering cans. Strickland, who also kept meticulous records of the holdings, died in January.

Leading Economic Indicators

-- Details about Britain's biggest marijuana-importing operation emerged in March following the conviction of its three managers in Southwark Crown Court. The enterprise earned the equivalent of as much as $300 million at such a rapid clip that the partners apparently were unable to use much of it, despite buying real estate, jewelry and expensive cars. An inspector said Scotland Yard found "moldy" cash "rotting away," hidden under floorboards. "(I)t was no good to anybody."

-- Recession's Over: Among the items on display in February at the Verona Luxury Fair in Verona, Italy: a hand-crafted billiards table covered in gold sheets; an armchair topped with the skin of 20 crocodiles; a 24-carat gold racing bike; a boat with a Ferrari engine; a golden coffin (with cell phone); and a diamond-studded wedding gown in pink chinchilla fur.

Mad Dogs, Horseplay, Monkey Business, Having a Cow

-- Pigs Livin' Large: (1) Among the items that celebrity farmer Cathy Gieseker bought with proceeds from the $12 million Ponzi scheme she, in February, was sentenced for perpetrating (prosecutors called her the "Midwest Madoff") was a $900 tanning bed for her "show" pigs. (2) Farmer Chang Chung-tou, of Yunlin County, Taiwan, drew praise from environmentalists in December for having "toilet"-trained almost all of his 20,000 pigs to use his 600 specially rigged plots that collect and separate urine and feces. Chang's farm conserves water and facilitates recycling.

-- Animals With Issues: (1) Ashley Saks' 2-year-old basset hound Roxy was resting comfortably in Jacksonville, Fla., in November following a vet's removal, one by one, of the 130 nails she had compulsively swallowed. (2) The polar bear Aisaqvaq produced two cubs in December at Quebec's Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Felicien. Aisaqvaq had given birth to another the previous December, but had eaten it. (3) In November, maritime rescuers were called to ocean waters off the coast of Darwin, Australia, to rescue an adult cow that was dog-paddling around and, according to a seaman, "not in a good mood."

-- Natural Selection: (1) Female cane toads are choosy at mating, according to a recent article in Biology Letters. A desirable male is permitted to hop onto the female's back and start the process, but the female is also able to inflate sacs in her body to bloat herself so large that males slide off before completing insemination. (Also, to test the strength of the male's grip, the researchers encouraged necrophilia: The scientists doused dead female toads with pheromones to measure males' horniness.) (2) Female short-nosed fruit bats in China's Guangdong Province show their preference for certain males by fellating them, according to an October journal article. Researchers observed that licked males were able to copulate longer, thus improving the likelihood of insemination. (The scientists also confirmed that bats mate while upside down.)

22nd Century Already?

Later this year, manufacturer Organovo, of San Diego, will begin shipping its $200,000 ink-jet-type printers that create living organs for patients needing transplants. The 3-D "bioprinter" works by spraying extracted microscopic cells on top of each other, in pass after pass. On the bioprinter's equivalent of a sheet of paper, and under laboratory conditions, the cells fuse together and grow for weeks until an organ substantial enough for research use is created (and ultimately, substantial enough for human transplants). The bioprinter is faster than growing such organs from scratch, which scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have been doing for several years.

Fine Points of the Law

If you're wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun and walk into a store to rob it, but there are no employees there to rob, and you abort, is that an "attempted robbery"? Sanjuan Reyes, 22, and two teenagers were arrested in Joliet, Ill., in January and charged with attempting to rob the Supermercado Viva Mexico. Two acted as lookouts while the youngest, wearing a ski mask and wielding an air pistol, entered the store. Apparently, the only employees on duty were in the back room. The boy waited for a minute or so, then bailed out, and the three fled empty-handed. Joliet's deputy police chief said a crime was committed.

Unclear on the Concept

In March, sheriff's deputies in Kissimmee, Fla., detained a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was working undercover but who had aroused suspicions of residents of a neighborhood. After investigating, the deputies discovered that in order to guard his identity as an ICE agent, the man was posing as an FBI agent. [Orlando Sentinel, 3-4-10]

Least Competent Criminals

(1) Jonathon Smith, 27, was arrested in March in Fairbanks, Alaska, shortly after his release on bail on charges that he tried to buy three trucks from local dealers using forged checks. His latest arrest came at Seekins Ford, where, according to police, he was trying to buy yet another pickup truck with a forged check. (2) Falmouth, Mass., police hired John Yarrington as a confidential informant on Feb. 16, setting him up with $100 in marked bills to make a cocaine buy from dealer Cory Noonan, which Yarrington completed. He left the scene, but less than 10 minutes later, before Noonan could be arrested, Yarrington returned and, according to police, attempted to buy more cocaine on his own.

Undignified Deaths

(1) A 36-year-old man drowned in Denville, N.J., in January during a friendly swimming competition with a pal, as they raced underneath a 30-yard long ice patch on partially frozen Indian Lake. (2) New York City police believe that drug-gang hit man Hector Quinones, 44, shot three men to death in a high-rise apartment in December, but allowed a woman in the apartment to escape when he tripped on his own baggy pants while chasing her. As police arrived, Quinones climbed out onto the fire escape but accidentally fell off and broke his neck.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 2002)

Two-time convicted bank robber Mark Turner filed a lawsuit against Canada's National Parole Board in 2001 because the board had released him early from prison in 1987 from a previous sentence. The board should have kept him inside until that sentence ran out in 1994, he said, and it was thus the board's fault that while on parole, Turner had robbed another bank and had again been locked up. By 1994, he said, he would have been more mature and would not have re-offended, and for the parole board's error, it should pay him the U.S. equivalent of almost $1 million.

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