News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MARCH 25, 2012

LEAD STORY -- Who Knew Restrooms Were So Complicated?

Back to the Fundamentals: The multicultural Macquarie University, in suburban Sydney, Australia, said its restroom posters, installed last year, have been successful in instilling toilet etiquette. The lined-through figure of a user squatting on top of a toilet seat was especially helpful, apparently. Complaints of unsanitariness were such that some students were timing their classes to use restrooms in a nearby mall instead. (Lest anyone believe the problem is confined to multicultural institutions, a recent memo by the 785-member Lewis Brisbois law firm in San Francisco instructed employees to clean urine from toilet seats, to always take the farthest stalls or urinals available, to mask sounds by toilet-flushing (if desired), and to not make eye contact in the restroom. [Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1-12-2012] [Above The Law blog, 2-1-2012]

Can't Possibly Be True

-- Louis Helmburg III filed a lawsuit in Huntington, W.Va., in February against the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and its member Travis Hughes for injuries Helmburg suffered in May 2011 when he fell off a deck at the fraternity house. He had been startled and fallen backward off the rail-less deck after Hughes attempted to fire a bottle rocket "out of his anus" -- and the rocket, instead, exploded in place. (The lawsuit does not refer to Hughes' injuries.) [Courthouse News Service, 2-2-2012]

-- U.S. Immigration agents in a $160,000 Chevy Suburban that had been custom-designed and -armored specifically to protect agents from roadside kidnappings became sitting ducks last year when kidnappers forced the vehicle off the road near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and got the door open briefly, enabling them to fire 100 rounds and kill one of the two agents inside. According to a February Washington Post report, the Department of Homeland Security had failed to modify the vehicle's factory setting that popped open the door locks automatically whenever the driver shifts into "Park." [Washington Post, 2-13-2012]

-- When Rose Marks and her extended family of Romanian-Gypsy "psychics" were indicted last year for a 20-year-run of duping South Floridians out of as much as $40 million, victims of the clan were elated that justice might be at hand. (A typical scam, according to prosecutors, was to take a client's cash, "to pray over it," promising its return but somehow figuring out how to keep it.) However, in December, the Markses' attorneys reported that "several" of the so-called victims had begun to work with them to help clear the family, including one who reportedly paid Rose over time $150,000. According to the lawyers, these "victims" call the Markses "friends," "life coaches" and "confidants," rather than swindlers. [Miami Herald, 12-26-2011; 2-20-2012]


David Myrland, an anti-government "sovereign" now serving three years in federal prison for threatening the mayor of Kirkland, Wash., filed a federal lawsuit in February accusing various officials of conspiracy -- by the manipulation of bad grammar, i.e., "backwards-correct-syntaxing-modification fraud." Each word of the original complaint, coded by Myrland as to part of speech, "proves" to him that the complaint was "fraudulent" and "handicapping." (Random sentence from Myrland's filing: "For the WORDS OF an ADVERB-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR-MODIFICATIONS ARE with an USE of the SYNTAX-GRAMMAR with the VOID of the POSITIONAL-LODIAL-FACT-PHRASE with the SINGLE-WORD-MODIFIER AS THE: A, AS, AT, AM, BECAUSE (many words omitted) FACT by the VASSALEES.") ("Sovereigns" generally reject the federal government, and Myrland did not explain why he expected a federal judge would have authority to help him.) [Seattle Weekly, 2-14-2012] [, 1-23-2012]

Unclear on the Concept

-- Jason Bacon, 41, was arrested in Eureka, Calif., in March after responding to a classified ad for a used motorcycle by offering to trade about $8,000 worth of his home-grown marijuana for it. According to an officer on the scene, Bacon told a deputy, "I know you can't sell it, but I thought it was OK to trade it." [Times-Standard (Eureka), 3-7-2012]

-- Kathleen Mathews was outraged that the local community could turn on her 26-year-old son, Jesse, who had been charged with capital murder for killing a Chattanooga, Tenn., police officer. She told the judge in a letter that Jesse is a "good man," and lamented, "You do one little thing that pisses people off, and they want to hold it against you forever." [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 2-12-2012] 

Our Dynamic Democracy

-- Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey, a staunch abortion opponent, introduced a bill in January to ban the use of human fetuses in processed food. Although the principal anti-abortion advocacy official in the state said he had never heard of such a practice, Sen. Shortey asserted that it was a problem and that he had been reading up on it on the Internet. [Associated Press via Wichita Eagle, 1-24-2012]

-- Kyle Bower, 19, was elected in November to a seat on the Alburtis (Pa.) Borough Council. Before being sworn in, however, he was sentenced to probation for stalking an ex-girlfriend and tossing a brick through her window. Now that he is seated, he still must answer to 2010 charges in Kutztown, Pa., of resisting arrest for public drunkenness. In both incidents, he also displayed an uncanny ability to slip out of handcuffs and wander away from arresting officers. [Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), 12-11-2011]

Creme de la Weird

Madeleine Martin, the chief animal protection official for the state government of Hesse, Germany, told a newspaper in Frankfurt in February that among the reasons why the country needed an anti-bestiality law was that she knew of "animal brothels" in Germany (presumably, not animal-animal mating services but human-animal facilities). (Without an anti-bestiality law, authorities usually must prove that the animal has been physically harmed in order to obtain a conviction.) [The Local (Berlin), 2-3-2012]

Least Competent Criminals

Law enforcement officers turn to Facebook nowadays to help solve crimes, knowing that some perpetrators cannot resist bragging about or even showing off things they've recently stolen. For example, Steven Mulhall, 21, will be easily prosecuted for stealing the nameplate off the door of Broward County (Fla.) judge Michael Orlando -- since he posted in March a photograph of himself holding it following a courtroom visit. (In other Facebook news, in Tacoma, Wash., in March, corrections officer Alan O'Neill, 41, was charged with bigamy after his long-estranged first wife found out about the second one when Facebook suggested the two be "friends.") [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3-9-2012] [KOMO News (Seattle), 3-9-2012]

Recurring Themes

In February, a 41-year-old man in a pond in Gosport, England, apparently suffered an epileptic seizure while feeding swans in water about three feet deep. Firefighters were called, but the first one to arrive remained on shore, explaining that he had been trained only for "ankle deep" water and would have to await a colleague trained in "chest high" water. In July 2011, a man committed suicide in San Francisco Bay by wading into neck-deep water and remaining until he died of hypothermia. Firefighters from the city of Alameda watched from the shore because they lacked water-rescue "training." (In neither situation was it proved that the victim would have survived if rescued sooner.) [Daily Telegraph, 2-22-2012]

Armed and Clumsy (all new!)

Men (almost never a woman) Who Accidentally Shot Themselves Recently: Lee Miars, 30, Myrtle Creek, Ore., while pointing a gun at his head to illustrate a story for friends (January). A 22-year-old Navy SEAL, San Diego, Calif., while pointing a gun at his head to convince friends it was unloaded (January). Riki Ingram, 18, Baker, La., shot his leg while "holstering" his gun to his pocket following a robbery (December). Ethan Bennett, 36, Monroe, Wash., aiming at a squirrel running up his leg, shot his foot (November). Special Deputy Ted Maze, Bedford, Ind., shot his hand while reloading at a training session (June). Kenneth Fortson, 21, Atlanta, was killed in a police chase following a home invasion (by, apparently, holding a gun as his pickup truck hit a tree and jarred his trigger finger) (October). Larry Godwin, 68, Redfield, Iowa, shot himself twice firing at a raccoon in a live trap (February). [Myrtle Creek: KVAL-TV (Eugene, Ore.), 1-24-2012] [San Diego: KNSD-TV (San Diego), 1-5-2012] [Baker: WAFB-TV (Baton Rouge), 12-20-2011] [Monroe, Wash.: KGW-TV (Portland, Ore.), 11-30-2011] [Bedford: Times-Mail (Bedford), 6-16-2011] [Atlanta: Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10-11-2011] [Redfield: WOI-TV (Des Moines), 2-25-2012]

Thanks This Week to Richard Zehr, Chip Sharpe, Kent Heustess, Sandy Pearlman, Perry Levin, Kathryn Wood, Peter Smagorinsky, Sarah Winter, John Smith, Scott Johnston, Karen Bledsoe, and Shawn Tolliver, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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