Friday, March 18, 2011

News of the Weird, March 6, 2011

WEIRDNUZ.M204 (News of the Weird, March 6, 2011)
by Chuck Shepherd

Copyright 2011 by Chuck Shepherd.  All rights reserved.

Lead Story

* Tombstone, Ariz., which was the site of the legendary 1881
"Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (made into a 1957 movie), is about 70
miles from the Tucson shopping center where a U.S.
Congresswoman, a federal judge, and others were shot in January.
A Los Angeles Times dispatch later that month noted that the "Wild
West" of 1881 Tombstone had far stricter gun control than present-
day Arizona.  The historic gunfight occurred when the marshal
(Virgil Earp, brother of Wyatt) tried to enforce the town's no-carry
law against local thugs.  Today, however, with few restrictions and
no licenses required, virtually any Arizonan 18 or older can carry a
handgun openly, and those 21 or older can carry one concealed.
[Los Angeles Times, 1-23-2011]

Leading Economic Indicator

* The government of Romania, attempting both to make amends for
historical persecution of fortune-telling "witches" and to collect
more tax revenue, amended its labor law recently to legalize the
profession.  However, "queen witch" Bratara Buzea, apparently
speaking for many in the soothsaying business, told the Associated
Press in February that official recognition might make witches
legally responsible for future events that are beyond their control.
Already, witches are said to be fighting back against the government
with curses--hurling poisonous mandrake plants into the Danube
River and casting a special spell involving cat dung and a dead dog.
[BBC News 1-6-2011; USA Today-AP, 2-8-2011] [UPDATE:  The
government backed down!  (Agence France-Presse, 3-1-2011)]

Compelling Explanations

* British loyalist Michael Stone still claims it was all a
misunderstanding--that he did not intend to assassinate Irish
Republican Army political leaders in 2006, despite being arrested at
the Northern Ireland legislature carrying knives, an axe, a garotte,
and a bag of explosives that included flammable liquids, gas
canisters, and fuses.  He was later convicted, based on his having
detonated one explosive in the foyer and then carrying the other
devices into the hall to confront the leaders, but he continued to
insist that he was merely engaged in "performance art."  (In January
2011, the Northern Ireland court of appeal rejected his claim.) [The
Guardian (London), 1-6-2011]

* Phyllis Stevens, 59, said she had no idea she had embezzled
nearly $6 million until her employer, Aviva USA, of Des Moines,
Iowa, showed her the evidence.  She said it must have been done by
the "hundreds" of personalities created by her dissociative identity
disorder (including "Robin," who was caught trying to spend
Stevens's remaining money in Las Vegas just hours after the
showdown with Aviva).  Stevens and her spouse had been spending
lavishly, buying properties, and contributing generously to political
causes.  As the "core person," Stevens said she will accept
responsibility but asked a federal judge for leniency.  (The
prosecutor said Stevens is simply a thief.) [Des Moines Register, 1-
21-2011] [UPDATE:  Six years in prison. (WOI-TV (Des Moines),

* Thomas Walkley, a lawyer from Norton, Ohio, was charged in
January with indecent exposure for pulling his pants down in front
of two 19-year-old males, but Walkley said he was merely
"mentoring" at-risk boys.  He said it is a technique he had used with
other troubled youths, especially the most difficult cases, by getting
them "to think differently."  Said Walkley, "Radical times call for
radical measures." [American Bar Association Journal, 1-18-2011]


* U.S. News & World Report magazine, and the National Council
on Teacher Quality, announced plans recently to issue grades (A, B,
C, D, and F) on how well each of the U.S.'s 1,000-plus teachers'
colleges develop future educators, but the teachers of teachers
appear to be sharply opposed to the very idea of being issued
"grades."  The project's supporters cited school principals'
complaints about the quality of teachers applying for jobs, but the
teachers' college representatives criticized the project's measurement
criteria as overly simplistic. [New York Times, 2-9-2011]

* Police were out in force in September as schools opened in
Toronto, writing 25 school-zone-speeding tickets in the first two
hours.  One of the 25 was issued to the driver of a school bus,
caught speeding through a school zone trying to avoid being late at
a pickup point further down the road. [CTV News (Toronto), 2-7-

The Litigious Society

* Paul Mason, 50, an ex-letter-carrier in Ipswich, England, told
reporters in January he would file a lawsuit against Britain's
National Health Service for negligence--because it allowed him to
"grow" in recent years to a weight of nearly 900 pounds.  Mason
said he "begged" for NHS's help in 1996 when he weighed 420 but
was merely told to "ride your bike more."  Last year, he was finally
allowed gastric surgery, which reduced him to his current 518.  At
his heaviest, Mason estimates he was consuming 20,000 calories a
day. [The Sun (London), 1-7-2011]


* Life is improving for some Burmese Kayan women who, fleeing
regular assaults by soldiers of the military government of Myanmar,
become valuable exhibits at tourist attractions in neighboring
Thailand--because of their tribal custom of wearing heavy metal
rings around their necks from an early age.  The metal stacks weigh
11 pounds or more and depress girls' clavicles, giving them the
appearance of elongated necks, which the tribe (and many tourists)
regard as exotic.  While human rights activists heap scorn on these
Thai "human zoos" of ring-necked women, a  Nacogdoches, Tex.,
poultry plant recently began offering some of the women a more
attractive choice--lose the rings and come work in Texas, de-boning
chickens. [Global Post, 1-31-2011] [KTRE-TV (Nacogdoches), 1-

People With Issues

* Although police in Mount Vernon, Ohio, aren't sure of the motive,
they know (according to records made public in February) that the
murderer-kidnaper Matthew Hoffman was arrested in November in
a living room piled three feet high with leaves and a bathroom
containing 110 bags of leaves attached to the walls.  Hoffman, an
unemployed tree-trimmer, later confessed to the kidnap and rape of
a 13-year-old girl (whom he kept in a basement on a pallet of
leaves) and had stuffed the bodies of his three murder victims in a
hollow tree.  An expert on serial killers told ABC News that trees
might have given Hoffman comfort, but police haven't discounted
that the leaves were there merely to help him later torch the house.
[Columbus Dispatch, 2-9-2011]

Least Competent Criminals

* Not Ready For Prime Time:  (1) Jose Demartinez, 35, was
hospitalized in Manchester, N.H., in January.  With police in
pursuit, he had climbed out a hotel window using tied-together bed
sheets, but they came undone, and he fell four stories.  (2) Detected
burglarizing a house in Summerfield, Fla., in January, Laird Butler
fled through a window but not from police.  The homeowner's dog
had frightened Butler, who crashed through the glass, cut himself
badly, and bled to death in a neighbor's yard.  (3) Kevin Funderburk,
25, was charged with sexual assault of a 71-year-old woman in her
Hutchinson, Kan., home in December.  By the time his mug shot
was taken, he was in a neck brace--from the victim's frying-pan-
swinging defense. [WMUR-TV (Manchester), 1-10-2011] [WESH-
TV (Orlando), 1-5-2011] [Hutchinson News, 12-15-2010]

Recurring Themes

* (1) During an early-January freeze, an 8-year-old boy, standing
across the street from Woodward (Okla.) Middle School, apparently
fell for the traditional dare from his brother and licked a metal pole.
He had to wait on his tiptoes for emergency responders to come
unstick him.  (2) In January, John Finch, 44, of Wilmington, Del.,
became the latest alleged burglar to break in (through a window)
and be unable either to climb back out or figure out the automatic
locks on the doors (and thus be forced to call 911 on himself to be
rescued). [Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)-AP, 1-12-2011]
[WCAU-TV (Philadelphia), 1-7-2011]

A News of the Weird Classic (July 1996)

* The Wall Street Journal reported in March [1996] that New York
City photographer (and former Electrolux vacuum cleaner
salesman) Eugene Calamari Jr. is a part-time artist who lies on the
floor and lets people vacuum him with an upright cleaner, after
which he asks the vacuumers to please write down their feelings.
According to Calamari, "A lot of people use each other and step on
each other's rights."  The theme he intends to convey, he said, is "I
won't let anyone do this to me." [Wall Street Journal, 3-27-1996]

    Thanks This Week to David Stephenson, Sandy Pearlman,
Paul Evans, Chuck Gardner, Alex Hooke, and Brian Taylor, and to
News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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