News of the Weird

Week of December 2, 2012

LEAD STORY -- Paint It Gone

If an asteroid is ever on a collision course with Earth, it is feasible that the planet could be saved by firing paintballs at it, according to an MIT graduate student whose detailed plan won this year's prize in a United Nations space council competition, announced in October. White paint powder, landing strategically on the asteroid, would initially bump it a bit, but in addition would facilitate the sun's photons bouncing off the solid white surface. Over a period of years, the bounce energy would divert the body even farther off course. The already identified asteroid Apophis, which measures 1,500 feet in diameter and is projected to approach Earth in 2029, would require five tons of paintball ammo. [MIT press release, 10-26-2012]

The Litigious Society

-- Samuel Cutrufelli, 31, filed a lawsuit in October in Sacramento County, Calif., claiming that Jay Leone, 90, "negligently" shot him. Cutrufelli had burglarized Leone's home in Greenbrae, unaware that Leone was home. When Leone reached for one of his stashed handguns, Cutrufelli shot him in the jaw and then pulled the trigger point-blank at Leone's head, but was out of bullets. Leone then shot Cutrufelli several times, which Cutrufelli apparently felt was entirely unnecessary. [Marin Independent Journal, 10-23-2012]

-- In October, the former captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia (on which 32 people died after it ran aground in January 2012) filed a lawsuit against Costa Cruises for "wrongfully" firing him. Francesco Schettino is awaiting trial for manslaughter, accused of sending the ship dangerously close to shore on a personal lark, and was also charged with abandoning ship, since he was spotted in a lifeboat in the midst of passengers' escape. (Schettino said he wound up in the lifeboat only because he "slipped" and fell in.) [Reuters via Los Angeles Times, 10-13-2012]

-- China's legal system apparently is growing to resemble America's. A well-covered (but incompletely sourced) story from Chinese media in October reported that Mr. Jian Feng won the equivalent of $120,000 in a lawsuit against his well-to-do wife for deceiving him and subsequently giving birth to what Feng thought was an ugly baby. Feng discovered that his wife had had cosmetic surgery -- and thus was not, genetically, the beauty that he married but, in reality, plain-looking. [RIA Novosti (Moscow), 10-28-2012]


-- Amateur!: In October, a federal appeals court overturned the bribery conviction of a City of Chicago zoning inspector -- on the grounds that the bribes he was convicted of taking were too small to be covered by federal law. Dominick Owens, 46, was convicted of taking two bribes of $600 each to issue certificates of occupancy, but the law applies only to bribes of $5,000 or more. (Also in October, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded the city's ethics board after a 25-year run in which it never found an alderman in violation -- even though, during that time, 20 aldermen were convicted of felonies.) [Chicago Sun-Times, 10-11-2012] [Chicago Tribune, 10-3-2012]

-- The government's Health Canada agency announced in October that Avmor Ltd. had agreed to recall one lot of its Antimicrobial Foaming Hand Soap -- because it was contaminated with microbes. (The recall did not disclose whether the danger was due to too many microbes overwhelming the soap or due to the inability of the antimicrobial soap to kill any microbes at all.) [Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News, 10-15-2012]

-- Karma: (1) Tyller Myers, 19, was killed in a collision near Norwalk, Ohio, in September when he ran a stop sign and was rammed by a tractor-trailer. Afterward, police found three stolen stop signs in Myers' truck. (2) A 21-year-old man was killed crossing a highway at 5 a.m. in Athens, Ga., in September. Police said he had just dined-and-dashed out of a Waffle House restaurant and into the path of a pickup truck. [Athens Banner-Herald, 9-14-2012] [Yahoo News, 9-25-2012]

-- The Will of God: Devoted Catholic David Jimenez, 45, had been praying regularly to a large crucifix outside the Church of St. Patrick in Newburgh, N.Y., having become convinced that it was responsible for eradicating his wife's ovarian cancer. He even got permission from the church to spruce up the structure, as befit its power. Then, during a cleaning in May 2010, the 600-pound crucifix came loose and fell on Jimenez's leg, which had to be amputated. From a holy object of worship to precipitator of a lawsuit: Jimenez's $3 million litigation against the archdiocese goes to trial in January. [WCBS-TV (New York), 10-26-2012] [Associated Press via Newsday, 11-7-2012]

Compelling Explanations

Not Mine! (1) James White, 30, was arrested in Grove City, Fla., after being stopped by police patrolling a high-burglary neighborhood, and in a consensual search of his pants, officers found a packet of Oxycodone pills for which White did not have a prescription. However, according to the police report, White suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, wait! These aren't my pants!" (2) Ms. Vida Golac, 18, was arrested in Naples, Fla., in October, and charged with possessing marijuana, which police discovered in her genitals as she was being strip-searched. According to the police report, Golac denied that the drugs were hers and explained that she was just hiding them there for friends. [Sun-Sentinel, 10-20-2012] [Naples Daily News, 10-5-2012]


As a service to taxpayers, the IRS's longtime policy is to pay tax refund claims promptly and only later to refer the refund files for possible audits and collection, in the event of overpayments or fraud. This policy, though, means that ordinary taxpayers are treated better than the nation's wounded warriors who file disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA's assumption seems to be that wounded veterans are cheating -- and thus most veterans receive at least five evaluations, and each one reviewed over a several-year period, before full benefits can be awarded. (Even though some temporary financial relief is available before final determination, veterans complain that the amount is almost never enough for complicated rehabilitation programs and other support.) [Washington Post, 11-11-2012]

People Different From Us

An articulate, functional "cave man" of El Paso, Texas, continues to roam his neighborhood, often naked, and to resist efforts to bring him back onto the grid, according to October coverage by El Paso's KVIA-TV. His mountainside subterranean structure, described as "intricate," might be on land owned by the local water utility, which, pending an investigation, could evict him. Some neighbors say they fear the man, who has allegedly swum in their pools and even swiped items from their laundry rooms, but nonetheless, he swears that he is harmless. "I'm a plasma donor ... drug free" and "sin-free ... baptized and saved." Other neighbors have supported him, he said, and the complainers need to "help the community more." [KVIA-TV, 10-15-2012, 10-17-2012]

Least Competent Criminals

Cunning Plans: (1) William Keltner, 52, was arrested in Abilene, Texas, in November, after he underestimated the security at a Wal-mart self-checkout line. He had taken the barcode off of a $1.17 item, placed it on a $228 TV set, and checked himself out, assuming no one would notice. (2) Kerri Heffernan, 31, was charged in October in Massachusetts with robbing banks in Brockton and Whitman. Heffernan perhaps acquired a feeling of doom when, in the midst of one robbery, a teller-friend appeared and asked, "Do you want to make a deposit, Kerri?" [KTXS-TV (Abilene), 11-5-2012] [WBZ-TV (Boston), 10-22-2012]

Readers' Choice

Election Follies: (1) Robert McDonald tied Olivia Ballou for the final seat on the city council of Walton, Ky., with 669 votes, but only later found out that his wife (exhausted from a hospital's night shift) had not made it to the polls. (The following week, as per voting rules, McDonald and Ballou held a coin flip. Ballou won but relinquished the seat to McDonald for an unrelated reason.) (2) Holly Solomon, 28, was arrested in Gilbert, Ariz., a few days after the election when, police said, she chased her husband with her Jeep and rammed him during a drunken rant blaming him for President Obama's victory (though Arizona's electoral votes went solidly for Mitt Romney). Daniel Solomon was hospitalized in critical condition. [WKRC-TV (Cincinnati), 11-9-2012, 11-20-2012] [Phoenix New Times, 11-12-2012]

Thanks This Week to Gerald Sacks, Scott Huber, May Foo, James White, Stephan Hopman, John McGaw, Craig Cryer, John Maple, Peter Smagorinsky, Milford Sprecher, and Josh Levin, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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