News of the Weird 

Seriously Bi-Cultural

Tariq Khan, 12, of New York City, bubbled with enthusiasm (to a New York Times reporter in August) about his love of the Grand Theft Auto video game and the hip-hop music of Fat Joe, T.I. and 50 Cent -- a month after becoming a prestigious hafiz by having memorized the entire Koran in Arabic (which he doesn’t understand all that well). He finished the regimen in less than two years of 40-hour workweeks, and if he retains his knowledge, he and 10 people of his choosing eventually get express passage to paradise.

Compelling Explanations

(1) University of Central Florida student Matthew Damsky was arrested in July and charged with starting a fire in his dormitory, just so that, he said, he could meet women during the evacuation. (2) During the Santa Ana, Calif., murder-conspiracy trial of Aryan Brotherhood prison leaders in July, the lawyer for defendant Barry “The Baron” Mills (who was convicted along with colleague Tyler “The Hulk” Bingham) made the point that the Aryan Brotherhood is more of a social club than a criminal gang and mostly enjoys just “playing cards, reading and crocheting,” according to a New York Times report.

The Litigious Society

Longshots: (1) Los Angeles psychologist Michael Cohn filed a lawsuit in May against the Los Angeles Angels baseball team because he didn’t get a red nylon bag that the team was giving to women for “Family Sunday” on Mothers’ Day last year. (2) “Carlos the Jackal,” who is perhaps the world’s most notorious terrorist and who is serving life in prison in France, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the head of French intelligence for illegally capturing him while he was sedated in a liposuction clinic in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1994.

Garrett Sapp filed a lawsuit in July seeking compensation for injuries from a 2004 auto accident in West Des Moines, Iowa, in which Christopher Garton’s car, turning, hit Sapp’s because Garton’s attention was diverted by (according to a police report) the oral sex he was receiving from his wife.

Bill of Rights

James Filson was fired as a Big Ten conference football referee in 2005, following a reporter’s disclosure that, after a bad accident and the installment of a prosthetic, Filson had been officiating games with one eye. Filson filed a lawsuit in July, pointing out that he had been refereeing well enough for the previous four years that no one noticed his condition, but the conference said that, now that the word is out, he would be a magnet for criticism on close calls.

Pedophiles Fight Back: (1) Phillip Distasio, 34, told a judge in Cleveland in August (in preparation for his September trial on 74 charges) that he’s been a pedophile for 20 years, that what he does can be therapeutic for the child, and that it’s part of his Arcadian Fields Ministries religion, of which he is a friar. (2) Three men in the Netherlands announced in May that they have formed the Charity, Freedom and Diversity party and will field candidates for office, advocating freedom to be naked in public and a reduction in the age of consent for sex to 12. The new party, said one, will give them “a voice.” “(P)oliticians only talk about us in a negative sense.”


(1) Amarillo, Texas, officials, welcomed home eighth-place national spelling bee finisher Caitlin Campbell in June with a billboard, but misspelled her name as “Cambell.” (2) ExxonMobil, the company that announced jaw-dropping profits of $18.7 billion for the first half of 2006, said in June that it would fight the U.S. Justice Department over $92 million that the government said the company owes in the still-uncompleted 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-spill cleanup.

I See Dead People: (1) A campaign worker for unsuccessful Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Dennis Michaud was charged in July with falsifying election records, in that he allegedly made a sworn statement that 57 voters had signed Michaud’s nominating petition “in (his) presence,” including two people who had long been dead. Said the worker, “I did nothing wrong.” (2) The signers this summer of a nominating petition for James T. Finnell for an office in Smithtown, N.Y., were all living, but the problem there was that Finnell himself had died in 2004, and according to a July report in Newsday, no one knows who circulated the petition.

News Stephen King Can Use

About 1,000 animals were scheduled to be dug up from Pet’s Rest cemetery in Colma, Calif., after owners realized that their lease had run out (June). And the Green River Cemetery in Greenfield, Mass., began hurriedly moving and re-burying bodies, which had begun sliding down a muddy slope into the river (July). And about 100 skeletons were recently unearthed from an old graveyard beneath the St. Joseph’s Church, which the Archdiocese of Boston demolished in 2004 and sold (July). And the city of London, England, began selling used burial sites (for the equivalent of about $5,600), offering to inter bodies on top of previous burials and to re-mark gravestones with new names (July).

 Least Competent Criminals

The robber of a Bank of America branch in Tampa, Fla., in August is actually still at large, but according to witnesses, the bag of cash he took and stuffed down his pants as he fled had exploded, from the chemical dye pack inside, creating a temperature of about 425 degrees. Said a police spokesperson, “There’s no way that he was not injured.” (In his spirited post-ignition dash, the man jettisoned almost all the money.)

Clumsy People With Guns (all-new)

The following people accidentally shot themselves recently: A 21-year-old man in Hoquiam, Wash., and a 20-year-old man in Chicago (fatally), both while trying “to holster” the weapon in their waistbands. And criminal suspects Fabian Patillo, 21, in a Chicago suburb (June), and a 23-year-old man in East Germantown, Pa. (July), shot themselves in the head when they too-hastily fired their guns behind them trying to shoot pursuers. (Mr. Patillo did not survive.)

By the Way, What Stories Have Been No-Longer-Weirded? (Part V)

Eighty such themes have occurred so frequently that they have been “retired from circulation” since News of the Weird began publishing in 1988, and here are more of them:

Sometimes, firefighters are the ones who start fires, often because of a need to prove how important they are when they put it out. And it’s the law in some places that if a local election ends in a tie, it’s decided by a coin flip or a cutting of cards. And most of us have heard of postal workers who fall behind in their work and stash mounds of undelivered mail. And remember when you were shocked that a high school teacher would actually have sex with a student? All those stories used to be weird, but no


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Chuck Shepherd

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