News of the Weird

Week of October 9, 2011


An option for suicide "with elegance and euphoria" is how Lithuanian-born Ph.D. candidate Julijonas Urbonas (London's Royal College of Art) described his "Euthanasia (Roller) Coaster," currently on the drawing board. Urbonas' model of "gravitational aesthetics" would be a third-mile-long, 1,600-foot-high thrill ride engineered to supply 10 Gs of centrifugal force (a spin at about 220 mph) to induce cerebral hypoxia, forcing blood away from the head and denying oxygen to the brain. Euphoria (and disorientation and anxiety, but not pain) are likely states to precede the brain's shutdown. Urbonas insisted that users would have the option through the first two minutes of the three-minute ride to rethink their decision and bail out (or else to push the final "FALL" button). (Suicide is legal in four European countries and Oregon and Washington.)

Government in Action!

-- An open-government advocacy group's survey of federal agencies, released in July, revealed that eight of them have unresolved Freedom of Information Act requests that are over a decade old, including one pending for more than 20 years. (The 1976 FOIA law requires resolution within 20 business days, with a 10-day extension under "unusual circumstances.") (Also, regarding the FOIA, a June 2011 request by the city of Sioux City, Iowa, for background documents regarding the recent Postal Service decision to move jobs from Sioux City to Sioux Falls, S.D., was met promptly -- by the Postal Service's forecast that the likely fee for the documents would be $831,000, even though under the law the first two search hours and the first 100 documents are free.)

-- In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission's inspector general revealed that a $1,200 cash award was paid by the agency in 2010 to one of the very employees who had been specifically singled out for allowing Bernard Madoff to talk his way out of SEC inquiries in 2005 and 2006, before his epic Ponzi scheme was exposed in 2008. (The IG helpfully recommended that, in the future, awards not be given to employees who have recently been facing potential disciplinary action for poor performance.)

-- Among the aftershocks of the 9-11 attacks on America was the colossal budget-busting on "homeland security" -- a spending binge that, additionally, was thought to require something approaching uniform disbursement of funds throughout the 50 states. (Endless "what if" possibilities left no legislator willing to forsake maximum security.) Among the questionable projects described in a Los Angeles Times August review were the purchase of an inflatable Zodiac boat with wide-scan sonar -- in case terrorists were eyeing Lake McConaughy in Keith County, Neb.; cattle nose leads, halters and electric prods (to protect against biological attacks on cows, awarded to Cherry County, Neb.); a terrorist-proof iron fence around a Veterans Affairs hospital near Asheville, N.C.; and $557,400 in communications and rescue gear in case North Pole, Alaska, got hit.

-- The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general denounced the agency in September for promiscuously continuing to pay pension benefits to deceased federal retirees -- citing a 70 percent rise in bogus payments over the last five years. However, another federal inspector general (the Social Security Administration's) chastised its agency for the opposite reason: About 14,000 people each year are cut off from benefits after erroneously being declared dead.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

The convenience store clerk, Ms. Falguni Patel, was giving testimony in the September trial of Morgan Armstrong (charged with robbing her in Hudson, Fla., in 2009) when she began shaking and then passed out while seated in the witness box. A relative of Patel's approached, removed her sneaker and held it to Patel's face, without success. The relative explained that Patel was subject to such blackouts and that sniffing the sneaker often revives her. (After paramedics attended to her, Patel took the rest of the day off and went back to court the next morning.)

Great Art!

-- Although Moroccan artist Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, 27, concedes that photographs can be misinterpreted, he maintains on his website that he never wants to hurt people's feelings. Nevertheless, he said he is proud of his photo exhibit in which he stands completely nude, allowing various verses of the Quran to be projected on his skin. His latest scheduled appearance was at an art fair in Marrakesh in October.

-- Two women were charged in September with what was likely a major art theft for Johnson City, Tenn. Connie Sumlin, 45, and Gail Johnson, 58, were identified from surveillance video as the ones who snatched two pieces of art off the wall in the entrance of a local Arby's restaurant (a picture of some pears, and a metal art object, with an alleged combined value, according to the police report, of "$1,200").

-- Earlier this year, Marion Laval-Jeantet won a notable Prix Ars Electronica award for her "hybrid" work that, she said, intends to blur the boundaries between species. Laval-Jeantet stepped onstage in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as a horse-human, having earlier injected herself with horse blood (after prepping her body for several months with different horse immunoglobulins). She also walked with stilts that had "hooves" affixed to the bottom. She capped the show by extracting some of her own presumably-hybrid blood, to be frozen and stored for future research.

Fetishes on Parade

Indecent-exposure flashers appear to be invading even off-limits sanctuaries in their quest to be seen -- in Florida, anyway. In Sarasota County in September, Shane Wheatley, 31, was arrested after a Comcast cable customer complained that Wheatley had begun fondling himself while installing the woman's TV service. Three days earlier, in Niceville, a 14-year-old boy (whose name was not released) was charged with indecent exposure after a worshipper reported him masturbating openly during services at the First United Methodist Church. The boy admitted he had done the same thing during services the week before because he was "bored."

Least Competent Criminals

In September, a jury found Terry Newman, 25, and an associate guilty of aggravated assault for a home invasion in San Antonio in 2009, thus adding insult to Newman's injuries. Newman was shot by a resident during the initial invasion, and then again by another resident when he returned 15 minutes later to retrieve his car. Finally, after police encountered Newman following a short chase, he resisted officers and was shot again, for the third time. (None of the injuries was life-threatening.)

(Very) Undignified Death

An inquest in Yorkshire, England, in September found that the February death of Brian Depledge, 38, was accidental -- that he had inadvertently strangled himself after falling onto a folding clothes horse (of the kind often used to hang recently washed laundry on to dry). The coroner concluded that Depledge's body had become trapped between rungs in such a way that the more he moved his arms to extricate himself, the tighter was the pressure that was unavoidably placed on his neck.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 2007)

After Emmalee Bauer, 25, was fired by the Sheraton hotel company in late 2006, she sought unemployment compensation under Iowa law that affords benefits to employees terminated through no fault of their own. However, the judge decided Bauer did not qualify. She had written a 300-page journal, during office hours, describing in detail her efforts to avoid work. Among her entries: "This typing thing seems to be doing the trick. It just looks like I am hard at work on something," and "Once lunch is over, I will come right back to writing to piddle away the rest of the afternoon," and "Accomplishment is overrated, anyway."

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