News of the Weird

Week of November 27, 2011


Enterprising reporters get stories by earning the trust of their sources, which Simon Eroro of the Post-Courier (Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea) obviously did. At a banquet in November, the News Limited (Rupert Murdoch's empire) awarded Eroro its "Scoop of the Year" honor for reporting on militant tribal fighters of the Free West Papua movement -- a scoop he had to earn by agreeing to undergo a ritual circumcision, with bamboo sticks, to prove his sincerity. (Some of the rebels still wear penis gourds whose size varies with the status of the wearer.)

The Litigious Society

-- An Illinois appeals court finally threw out a lawsuit in August, but not before the two-year-long battle had created a foot-high pile of legal filings on whether two "children" (now ages 23 and 20) could sue their mother for bad parenting while they were growing up. Among the claims were mom's failure to send birthday cards or "care" packages during the kids' college years and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from a party (and once failing to take the girl to a car show).

-- Todd Remis, an unemployed stock-market research analyst, filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the photographer of his 2003 wedding, citing breach of contract because the 400 shots taken during the ceremony failed to cover several key moments, such as the "last dance." A November 2011 New York Times report pointed out that Remis is demanding not just the return of his $4,100, but for the photographer to pay for re-creating the missing scenes by covering travel expenses for all 40 guests to reconvene. (Remis and his wife have divorced; she has returned to her native Latvia, and Remis does not even know how to contact her.)

-- Consumer Rights: (1) Jonathan Rothstein of Encino, Calif., filed a lawsuit in September against Procter & Gamble for selling its Crest toothpaste in "Neat Squeeze" packages, which Rothstein said make it impossible to access the last 20 percent of the contents, thus forcing consumers to buy more toothpaste prematurely. (He wants Procter & Gamble to return 90 cents to everyone who bought Neat Squeeze packages.) (2) Sarah Deming of Keego Harbor, Mich., filed a lawsuit in September against the distributor of the movie "Drive" (starring Ryan Gosling) because its trailers promised fast-driving scenes (like those in the "Fast and Furious" series), but delivered mostly just drama.

Fine Points of the Law

(1) A recent vicious, unprovoked attack in Toronto by Sammy the cat on Molly the black Labrador (bloodying Molly's ear, paws and eye) left Molly's owner without recourse to Ontario's or Toronto's "dangerous pet" laws. The owner told the Toronto Star in November that, apparently, only dangerous dogs are covered. (2) Maya the cat was central to a recent contentious British immigration case when a judge seemed to favor residence for a Bolivian national because of Maya. The judge had concluded that the Bolivian man and his British partner had established a close-knit "family" relationship because of the need to care for Maya.


-- Unclear on the Concept: (1) Licensed Texas physician Akili Graham, 34, who gives paid motivational speeches on healthy living ("How to Deal With Stress"), was arrested in October in Houston and accused as the front man for four "pain clinics" that allegedly dispense prescription drugs illegally. (2) A chief child-abuse investigator for the Catholic Church in Britain, Christopher Jarvis, 49, was sentenced in October following his guilty plea to possession of over 4,000 child-sex images on his computer. Jarvis had been hired in 2002 to protect against pedophiles' access to church groups.

-- Why People Love Washington: U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August that he and a partner had "settled" the lawsuit brought by the Bartow County Bank for failing to repay a $2.2 million loan they had taken out in 2007. Graves has been a staunch advocate for governmental fiscal austerity and voted against raising the federal debt-ceiling in August. However, he had balked at repaying the $2.2 million (though he had signed a personal guarantee) because, he said, the bank should have known when it made the loan that Graves would be unable to pay it back.

-- Violinist Martin Stoner, 60, who lost his job after 25 years and who is suing the New York City Ballet for age discrimination, petitioned federal judge Robert Patterson to disqualify himself from the case because he is too old (88) and, according to Stoner, has vision and hearing problems.

Compelling Explanations

(1) Management consultant Graham Gibbons, 42, was on trial in Cardiff, Wales, at press time, charged with making a clandestine video of himself and his then-girlfriend in bed. Gibbons denied being a pervert, insisting that he made the video to analyze, for "efficiency," the "time and motion" of his "performance," as he might do for corporate clients. (Despite his alleged improved lovemaking, the girlfriend broke up with him.) (2) West Virginia roadkill-cooking activist David Cain told Bloomberg News in October that he generally supported Volvo's new driver-safety technology that warns of objects ahead in the road. Cain pointed out that it was just a warning, that the driver "could still choose to run over something that's good for eating."

People With Issues

In November, Tommy Joe Kelly, unsuccessfully acting as his own lawyer, was convicted of slashing a stranger's tire by an Austin, Texas, jury, despite his explanation. "OK, I'm going to tell you the truth on this one," he said from the witness stand. "It doesn't sound right, but it is. I ... had hemorrhoids at that time, super duper bad." (There have been 391 tire slashings in Kelly's neighborhood over the last four years, but he was charged with only one count, and sentenced to 10 years in jail.)

Least Competent Criminals

Robbers Easily Subdued: (1) Dale Foughty, 56, was charged with robbing a convenience store in Jacksonville, N.C., in October, despite attempting to intimidate the clerk by dressing as Spiderman. However, the clerk poked Foughty in the stomach with a broom, sending him away empty-handed. (2) Cody Smith, 18, was charged with snatching a woman's purse in Johnson City, Tenn., in November. The victim chased Smith into nearby shrubbery, entangling him long enough for her to recover the purse. (3) Two men, attempting a robbery of the Ace Smoke Shop in Altadena, Calif., in July, fled after grabbing only part of the store's cash. They were frightened off by the manager's barking Chihuahua.

Recurring Themes

The tactic of "patience" is usually employed when police believe that a suspect has ingested drugs for smuggling, i.e., nature will take its course, and the drugs will appear in the toilet sooner or later. On Oct. 12, Nigerian comic actor Babatunde Omidina (known as "Baba Suwe") was detained before a flight at the Lagos airport because authorities suspected that he had ingested drugs to smuggle to Paris. Omadina denied the charge, but police locked him up and began monitoring his bowel movements. On Nov. 4, Omadina was released without charges following 25 "evidence"-free movements.

A News of the Weird Classic (March 2008)

The divorce of Anton Popazov and his wife, Nataliya, is about to go through (in 2008), but the couple are still contractually committed to the Moscow State Circus, where their act includes Nataliya's shooting an apple off of Anton's head with a crossbow. The Times of London asked Anton during a show in Sheffield, England, in February whether he was afraid. "I still trust her because Nataliya is very professional," he said. "(T)he show must go on."

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