News of the Weird

Week of December 25, 2011


NOTE: So much "weird" news just involves different people caught in the middle of the same old weirdness. For this week and next, check out recent Recurring Themes (plus important Updates of previous stories):

-- Larry Walters made history in 1982 with perhaps the most famous balloon ride of all time -- in an ordinary lawn chair, lifted by 45 helium-filled weather balloons -- soaring to over 16,000 feet in Southern California before descending by shooting the balloons one by one. In 2008, gas station manager Kent Couch of Bend, Ore., made a similar lawn-chair flight and had scheduled another, for November 2011, to float over now-allegedly peaceful Baghdad, to raise money for Iraqi orphans. (Couch subsequently postponed his flight until March 2012 to give the charities more time to organize.)

-- Corruption in some Latin American prisons has allowed powerful criminals to buy extraordinary privileges behind bars. News of the Weird's report on Venezuela's San Antonio prison in July described the imperial reign of one drug lord-inmate, who presided over a personal armory, a local-community drug market and private parties (and with his own DirecTV account). In a surprise raid in November on a prison in Acapulco, Mexico, the usual drugs and weapons turned up, but also 100 fighting roosters for daily gambling, along with a prisoner's two pet peacocks.

-- The lives of many choking victims have been saved by the Heimlich Maneuver -- even one received inadvertently, such as the one a Leesburg, Fla., motorist gave himself in 2001, after gagging on a hamburger, then losing control and smashing into a utility pole. As he was thrust against the steering wheel, the burger dislodged. In November 2011, as the mother of 8-year-old Laci Davis drove her to a Cincinnati hospital after a locket stuck in her throat and caused her to double over in pain, Mom hit a pothole, which jarred Laci and dislodged the locket loose into her stomach (later to come out naturally).

-- It seemed a rare event (first reported in 1994 but initially regarded as an "urban legend"). However, twice now recently, workers have played a particularly dangerous prank on a colleague. A month after the recent News of the Weird story about Gareth Durrant's lawsuit in England against co-workers who had inserted a compressed-air hose into his rectum, a carpenter's assistant in Nicosia, Cyprus, was jailed for 45 days for pulling the same stunt on his colleague, rupturing his large intestine.

-- Sometimes professionals who overbill for their hours go too far, claiming obviously impossible schedules, such as lawyers News of the Weird reported on in 1992 and 1994 (one, a Raleigh, N.C., lawyer, submitted one client bills averaging nearly 1,200 hours a month -- even though a month only has 744 hours). New York City officials said in October 2011, however, that it's quite possible that city prison psychiatrist Dr. Quazi Rahman actually did work 141 hours one week, including 96 straight (because of a shortage of staff and because he could properly nap during his shifts). They ordered him to return only a tiny amount of his $500,000 in overtime payments for the last year.

-- Ten years ago, the fashionable bulletproof clothing industry was in its infancy, with Miss Israel creating a stir at the 2001 Miss Universe pageant with a bulletproof evening gown. Since then, technology and design improvements (along with more rich people!) have enabled leading stylist Miguel Caballero of Colombia to add to his fashion line. The New Yorker reported in September 2011 that Caballero had made a bulletproof dinner jacket for Sean Combs and kimono for Steven Seagal, and that Caballero clothes are available in strengths of bullet-stopping, from "9 mm" to "Uzi."

-- Rumors that daring youth are inserting tampons soaked in vodka into body orifices to speed alcohol delivery have been around for at least 10 years. Curiously, the only regular-sourced news stories come from TV stations in Phoenix (KNXV-TV in 2009 and KPHO-TV in 2011), and the "urban legends" source calls the whole idea far-fetched. Nonetheless, in November 2011, a school resource officer told KPHO's Elizabeth Erwin that there are "documented cases" and that "guys," too, engage by inserting the tampons into their rectums. Dr. Dan Quan of the Maricopa Medical Center cautioned against the practice, warning of the dangers of mucosal irritation.

-- Anti-government survivalists engaged in high-profile standoffs have made News of the Weird -- most recently the story of Ed Brown and his wife and supporters, resisting a federal tax bill, holed up for nine months in the New Hampshire woods near Plainfield in 2007. (The Browns were arrested by a U.S. marshal who tricked his way inside.) The longest-running standoff now is probably that of John Joe Gray, 63, and his extended family in a 47-acre, well-fortified compound in Trinidad, Texas, southeast of Dallas. They have lived ascetic settlers' lives since Gray jumped bail in 2000 on a traffic charge. Gray has said he feels free on his land and warned authorities "better bring plenty of body bags" if they try to re-arrest him.


-- Unlicensed "surgeon"-castrator Edward Bodkin re-surfaced recently after more than a decade under the radar. He was sentenced to four years in prison in 1999 in Huntington, Ind., for unauthorized practice of medicine (removing the testicles, with consent, of five men). Bodkin was arrested in August 2011 in Wetumpka, Ala., and charged with possession of child pornography, but authorities also recovered castration equipment, videos of castrations, photos of testicles in jars and a form contract apparently used by Bodkin to obtain the consent of men going under his knife.

-- In January 2009, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services removed three kids from the home of Heath and Deborah Campbell in Holland Township, apparently after becoming alarmed that the Campbells might be white supremacists. Though a court later concluded that the kids had been "abused," the Campbells told the New York Daily News in October 2011 that the state acted only based on the names the parents had given the kids -- Adolf Hitler Campbell, who was then 3, and his then-1-year-old sisters, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell. The Campbells have consistently denied that they are neo-Nazis.

-- It is almost No Longer Weird that Western chefs attempt to get as exotic as they can serving plants, insects and obscure parts of animals in their dishes that are usually only experienced by cultures far removed from America. Jennifer McLagan's recent book on how to cook animals' "odd" parts describes various recipes for cooking hearts, heads, tongues and ears, and guesses that the next big thing in Western eating will be testicles. "(S)teaks and chops are like bulletproof to cook," she said. "Any idiot can cook a steak, right?"

-- Thomas Beatie was big news in March 2008 when he and his wife, Nancy, decided to start a family, except that Thomas, not Nancy, took on the child-bearing responsibilities. (Thomas, born a female, had his breasts removed but retained his reproductive organs.) Thomas got pregnant, appeared on "Oprah," and subsequently had three children (who mugged delightfully for the cameras on the syndicated TV show "The Doctors" in October 2011). He also revealed on the show that it might be time to get his tubes tied, as each pregnancy requires him, irritatingly, to abandon his male hormone regimen.

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