News of the Weird 

Christmas Madness

(1) In November, the upscale New York City menswear and accessories store Jack Spade removed from its holiday catalog a $40 frog-dissection kit (with a real carcass) after numerous queries from people wondering what in the world the store was thinking.

(2) A holiday party for inmates at Britain’s Peterborough Jail promised a fun time with Xbox and PlayStations, along with cash gifts of 5 pounds each (about US$9), which is greater than the value of the candy boxes the jail will give its guards for Christmas. (3) Police in Rock Hill, S.C., put a 12-year-old boy under arrest at the insistence of his mother after he had defied her and opened his Christmas gift three weeks early.

I Know My Rights!

The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the cocaine-possession conviction of Timothy Stone in September, ruling that a search of his person was unconstitutional even though he had given police permission. The judges agreed with Stone that when he consented, he never expected that the search would include the officers holding out the waistband of his sweatpants and shining a flashlight on his genitals (which is where he happened to be hiding a small container of cocaine).

Unintended Consequences

(1) The “Berkeley Pit” in Butte, Mont., is the nation’s largest environmental-disaster site, with 40 billion gallons of highly toxic copper-mine waste that the federal government has long feared too expensive to clean up. However, Montana Tech researchers, writing in the Journal of Organic Chemistry in July, have found more than 160 types of “extremophiles” (organisms that thrive in toxicity) in the pit and have demonstrated that some are effective against lung and ovarian cancers. (2) Kimberly Baker, 22, sought child support in Warrensburg, Va., in October from the father of her daughter. However, when officials realized that the father, now 16, would have been 13 when the child was conceived, that made him a rape victim under state law, and thus, they arrested Baker.

Compelling Explanations

Ricardo Meana, 81, was charged with attempted murder in November in Sun City, Fla., when his 82-year-old wife, who has Alzheimer’s, was found inside a van in a store’s parking lot struggling with the plastic bag over her head. Police were called, but Meana seemed unconcerned and even nonchalantly resumed shopping, saying that he often put the bags on when his wife felt sick, so that she would not vomit on herself.

Not Our Fault: In 2002, Jeffrey Klein and Brett Birdwell, both 17 at the time, trespassed onto a railroad yard in Lancaster, Pa., and climbed atop a boxcar to see what the view was like, but were severely burned by a 12,500-volt line on the roof and thus sued Amtrak and Norfolk Southern railroads for not having done enough to prevent them from trespassing. In October, a federal jury awarded the two men a total of about $12 million in compensatory damages plus $12 million in punitive damages.

In a deposition, Ennis, Texas, physician Aniruddha Chitale admitted that semen that patient Sherry Simpson found on her face after a 2004 colonoscopy was his and thus later pleaded guilty to sexual assault. However, in his deposition (according to a report by Dallas’ WFAA-TV), Chitale insisted that the act that produced the semen was “unintentional.” (Simpson is now suing Ennis Regional Medical Center for having tolerated Chitale’s behavior.)

The Laws of Irony

Federal prosecutors have insisted so far that any ill-gotten money that former Enron executives had squirreled away in their spouses’ names still can be fully recovered by the government, except for one executive. Michael Kopper, once a director of Enron’s global finance unit, pleaded guilty in 2002 to illegally obtaining $16.5 million, but he is openly gay. And since his home state of Texas does not recognize his union with his longtime partner, prosecutors cannot treat the partner as a “spouse” and have lumped him with “third party” transferees, whose assets are much more difficult to obtain (according to a November report in Washington Blade).

University of California, Irvine, professor Elizabeth Loftus, a prominent scholar on people’s overconfidence about memory, was turned down by the judge as an expert witness in November in the forthcoming trial of “Scooter” Libby (Vice President Cheney’s former assistant, who has been charged with lying to prosecutors about phone conversations, which Libby says weren’t lies but just forgetfulness). At a hearing on Loftus’ credentials, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald not only exposed some problems with her research but elicited from Loftus the confident assertion that the two had never before met. However, Fitzgerald then immediately refreshed Loftus’ memory, reminding her that he had cross-examined her in court once before.

Names in the News

Pleading guilty to manslaughter in Pierre, S.D., in August was Mr. Austin First In Trouble, 19. And in Providence, R.I., in November, the teenager sentenced to life in prison for murder (where his life might rot away) is Mr. Phearin Rot. On the brighter side, a linebacker for South Sumter High School in Bushnell, Fla., had a good year: Yourhighness Morgan (whose brother Handsome Morgan and cousin Gorgeous Morgan were undoubtedly proud of him).

People Different From Us

A 41-year-old engineer in suburban Toronto has accumulated, and worn, about 800 pairs of sports socks over 15 years (half of them off the feet of professional athletes), according to a lengthy November profile in Canada’s National Post, which did not reveal his name. The worst part of his hobby, he said (besides having to keep it secret from his wife), is that he is often contacted by foot and sock fetishists, which he denies that he is, preferring to think of himself as sort of a “custodian of history,” wrote the Post. (A more conventional fetishist, Masashi Kamata, 28, was arrested in Nagoya, Japan, in October after police found about 5,000 pairs of used girls’ and boys’ shoes at a rented warehouse. “I was enjoying their smell,” he said, according to Mainichi Daily News.)

Least Competent People

Noel Methot, 24, was cited for inattentive driving after her car wound up half-submerged in a pond near downtown Orlando, Fla., in November. She was driving down a street but apparently missed the signs warning of the end of the road, and according to witnesses, the most likely reason for that was that she was arguing loudly with her boyfriend over her cell phone. The car went airborne about 20 or 30 feet before splashdown, but Methot was not seriously hurt.

More Things to Worry About

(1) With dozens of puzzled beachcombers witnessing, a cow marched into the surf off the coast of Queensland in Australia in November and swam out as far as 300 yards for four hours (returning to shore twice but venturing out again) before drowning from swallowing water. (2) In October in Vancouver, Wash., a Doberman pinscher named Victoria jumped on an electric stove and accidentally nudged a switch that started a fire in her apartment, resulting in about $100,000 damage. It was the second time this year that Victoria had jumped on the stove and started a fire, but the first one did much less damage. č


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Chuck Shepherd

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