News of the Weird

Week of January 22, 2012


Anti-Theft ID Breakthrough: For people who become stressed when asked to prove their identities by biometric scans of fingerprints, hand prints or eyeballs, Japan's Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology has developed a chair frame that authenticates merely by sitting down: a butt-scanner. Professor Shigeomi Koshimizu's device produces a map of the user's unique derriere shape, featuring 256 degrees of pressure at 360 different points and could be used not only to protect vehicles from theft but also, when connected to a computer, to prevent log-ons by those with unauthorized posteriors.

Compelling Explanations

-- Imminent Gay Takeovers: (1) Mayor Jose Benitez of Huarmey, Peru (population 16,000), speaking at the opening of a water works in November, warned residents about strontium in the water, which he said suppresses male hormones. He reminded residents that nearby Tabalosos, which is lately popular with gays and lesbians, shares the water supply and that Huarmey could turn gay, too. (2) A November report by Muslim scholars at Saudi Arabia's highest religious council (Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala), presented to the Saudi legislature, warned that ending the ban on females' driving would cause a surge in prostitution, pornography, divorce and, of course, homosexuality (and the scholars added that, within 10 years, the country would have "no more virgins").

-- California state legislator Mary Hayashi of Hayward pleaded guilty in January to misdemeanor shoplifting. Police said she had walked out of a Neiman Marcus store in October with over $2,400 worth of unpaid-for merchandise, caused, said her lawyer, by a benign brain tumor that might have affected her decision-making. (Miraculously, and just in time for the legislative session, the tumor, said the lawyer, is "no longer affecting her concentration or her judgment.")


-- Because this past Christmas fell on a Sunday, nearly one Protestant church in 10 in the U.S. reported having canceled Sunday services that day out of fear of low attendance, as parishioners remained at home with family. (The poll, by Lifeway Research, noted also that other churches, while not canceling, had left services to their second-string clergy.)

-- Retired sheriff Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. was arrested in November in a suburb of Denver and charged with distributing methamphetamine to men in exchange for sex. Sullivan, who had a distinguished career as Arapahoe County sheriff, was booked into the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Center, named for him after he retired in 2002.

-- Eldon Alexander, 36, and Ms. Korin Vanhouten, 47, had two different encounters with Ogden, Utah, police on Dec. 15. First, they were issued misdemeanor citations after being accused of shoplifting at a WinCo Foods store. They were released and walked out to their car in the parking lot, but summoned the police when they discovered that while they were busy shoplifting, someone had broken into their car and stolen a stereo. (The shoplifted items were worth about $25, the stereo about $60.)

-- Sheriff's deputies arrested novelist Nancy Mancuso Gelber, 53, in December in Bryan, Texas, after she had allegedly arranged a hit on her husband. (The "hit man," of course, was an undercover officer.) Gelber said she had walked in on the husband romancing with one of her friends, and the couple were in the process of divorcing (complicated by his having removed her from his health insurance just as she was scheduled for expensive surgery). Gelber is the author of the 2010 "crime thriller," "Temporary Amnesia," and told the "hit man" that she was quite familiar with investigative procedures (though obviously poor at spotting undercover officers).

The Litigious Society

-- Jesse Dimmick filed a lawsuit in Topeka, Kan., in October against Jared and Lindsay Rowley -- whom he has been convicted of kidnapping in a notorious 2009 episode that resulted in his being shot by police. Dimmick broke into the home and held the couple hostage at knifepoint, but now says that, during the siege, the couple made him an "oral contract," "legally binding," that they would help him hide if he would sometime later pay them an unspecified amount of money. According to the lawsuit, since Dimmick was subsequently shot (accidentally, said the Topeka police), his injuries were the result of the Rowleys breaching the contract to hide him safely. (Police, who had surrounded the home, arrested Dimmick when he fell asleep.)

-- The two men who heroically pulled a woman out of a burning car wreck in 2009, and surely (according to a highway patrol officer on the scene) saved her life, have sued the woman for the emotional and physical disabilities that resulted from the episode (brought to light in an August 2011 Associated Press report). David Kelley and Mark Kincaid not only stopped voluntarily to help, but were the only ones on the scene capable of pulling the woman to safety. (The fire was so hot that it melted Kelley's cellphone.) Kelley said he has suffered serious breathing problems and cannot avoid horrific dreams reliving the episode. The woman, Theresa Tanner, subsequently admitted that she deliberately crashed the car that day in a suicide attempt.

-- Former 11-year-veteran police officer Louise McGarva, 35, filed a lawsuit recently, asking the equivalent of about $760,000, against the Lothian and Borders Police in Edinburgh, Scotland, for causing her post-traumatic stress disorder. Officer McGarva was attending a supposedly routine riot training session that got out of hand. She said she discovered that she had developed a debilitating fear of sirens and police cars.

-- Tri-athlete Sabine von Sengbusch, 46, filed a lawsuit recently against Meghan Rohan, 28, over a June bicycle-pedestrian collision in New York City's Central Park. Von Sengbusch claims that Rohan had the audacity to step in front of her as she was bicycling, causing her to fall and suffer "painful and permanent" injuries. (Although von Sengbusch said she was inside the "bike lane" at the time, park officials said signs make clear that pedestrians have the right of way at all times.) Von Sengbusch's "permanent" injuries did not prevent her from competing in a triathlon on Oct. 1, in which she finished second. According to a New York Post report on the lawsuit, Central Park pedestrians are growing more vociferous in denouncing bicyclists, and vice versa.

People Different From Us

-- A recent article in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported the painful results obtained by three Hispanic men incarcerated in the southwestern United States who had, for some reason, inserted specially designed chips, carved from dominoes, under the skin of their penises, apparently based on a folkloric belief that "sexual performance and virility" would be enhanced. Infections resulted, requiring "major" surgery that was unspecified in the article.

Recurring Themes

No "Individual Mandate": To meet its municipal budget, the town of South Fulton, Tenn., assessed each residence $75 a year for firefighting service, but in the name of "liberty" gave people the chance to opt out of coverage. Vicky Bell chose not to pay, and when her home caught fire in December, firefighters rushed to the scene -- but only to be on hand in case the fire spread to her neighbors, who had paid their fees. Bell's home burned to the ground as firefighters watched. (Mayor David Crocker said "a majority" of residents had paid the fee.)

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