News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

War Is Hell: The day before British armychef Liam Francis, 26, arrived at his forwardoperating base in Afghanistan, the Taliban shotdown the helicopter ferrying in food rations,and Francis realized he had to make do withsupplies on hand. In his pantry were onlyseasonings, plus hundreds of tins of Spam.For six weeks, until resupply, Francis prepared“sweet and sour Spam,” “Spam fritters,” “Spamcarbonara,” “Spam stroganoff” and “stir-friedSpam.” He told the Daily Telegraph that he wasproud of his work but admitted that “moraleimproved” when fresh food arrived.Questionable Obsessions’ • (1) InNovember, Jim Bartek, 49, of Maple Heights,Ohio, announced he was ending his streak of524 consecutive days in which he listened to thealbum Nostradamus by the heavy-metal groupJudas Priest. (2) In February, Hilary Taylor, 63,of Great Yarmouth, England, revealed that shehad been bequeathed her uncle Ken Strickland’scollection of 3,000 watering cans.Leading Economic Indicators •Details about Britain’s biggest marijuana-importingoperation emerged in March followingthe conviction of its three managers in SouthwarkCrown Court. The enterprise earned theequivalent of as much as $300 million at sucha rapid clip that the partners apparently wereunable to use much of it, despite buying realestate, jewelry and expensive cars. An inspectorsaid Scotland Yard found “moldy” cash “rottingaway,” hidden under floorboards. “[I]t was nogood to anybody.”
Recession’s Over • Among the items ondisplay in February at the Verona Luxury Fairin Verona, Italy: a hand-crafted billiards tablecovered in gold sheets; an armchair topped withthe skin of 20 crocodiles; a 24-carat gold racingbike; a boat with a Ferrari engine; a goldencoffin (with cell phone); and a diamond-studdedwedding gown in pink chinchilla fur.Mad Dogs, Horseplay, Monkey Business,Having a Cow • Pigs livin’ large:(1) Among the items that celebrity farmer CathyGieseker bought with proceeds from the $12million Ponzi scheme she, in February, wassentenced for perpetrating (prosecutors calledher the “Midwest Madoff”) was a $900 tanningbed for her “show” pigs. (2) Farmer ChangChung-tou, of Yunlin County, Taiwan drewpraise from environmentalists in December forhaving “toilet”-trained almost all of his 20,000pigs to use his 600 specially rigged plots thatcollect and separate urine and feces. Chang’sfarm conserves water and facilitates recycling.• Animals with issues: (1) Ashley Saks’2-year-old basset hound Roxy was restingcomfortably in Jacksonville, Fla. in Novemberfollowing a vet’s removal, one by one, of the130 nails she had compulsively swallowed. (2)The polar bear Aisaqvaq produced two cubs inDecember at Quebec’s Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Felicien. Aisaqvaq had given birth to anotherthe previous December, but had eaten it. (3) InNovember, maritime rescuers were called toocean waters off the coast of Darwin, Australia,to rescue an adult cow that was dog-paddlingaround and, according to a seaman, “not in agood mood.”• Natural selection: (1) Female cane toadsare choosy at mating, according to a recentarticle in Biology Letters. A desirable male ispermitted to hop onto the female’s back andstart the process, but the female is also able toinflate sacs in her body to bloat herself so largethat males slide off before completing insemination.(Also, to test the strength of the male’sgrip, the researchers encouraged necrophilia:The scientists doused dead female toads withpheromones to measure males’ horniness.)(2) Female short-nosed fruit bats in China’sGuangdong Province show their preference forcertain males by fellating them, according to anOctober journal article. Researchers observedthat licked males were able to copulate longer,thus improving the likelihood of insemination.(The scientists also confirmed that bats matewhile upside down.)22nd Century Already? • Later thisyear, manufacturer Organovo, of San Diego,will begin shipping its $200,000 ink-jet-typeprinters that create living organs for patientsneeding transplants. The 3-D “bioprinter”works by spraying extracted microscopic cellson top of each other, in pass after pass. Onthe bioprinter’s equivalent of a sheet of paper,and under laboratory conditions, the cells fusetogether and grow for weeks until an organsubstantial enough for research use is created(and ultimately, substantial enough for humantransplants). The bioprinter is faster than growingsuch organs from scratch, which scientistsat the Wake Forest Institute for RegenerativeMedicine have been doing for several years.’ Fine Points of the Law • If you’rewearing a ski mask and carrying a gun and walkinto a store to rob it, but there are no employeesthere to rob, and you abort, is that an “attemptedrobbery”? Sanjuan Reyes, 22, and two teenagerswere arrested in Joliet, Ill. in January andcharged with attempting to rob the SupermercadoViva Mexico. Two acted as lookouts whilethe youngest, wearing a ski mask and wieldingan air pistol, entered the store. Apparently, theonly employees on duty were in the back room. The boy waited for a minute or so, then bailed out, and the three fled empty-handed. Joliet’s deputy police chief said a crime was committed.

Unclear on the Concept

• In March, sheriff’s deputies in Kissimmee, Fla. detained a US Immigration Enforcement agent who was working undercover but had aroused suspicions of residents of a neighborhood. After investigating, the deputies discovered that in order to guard his identity as an ICE agent, the man was posing as an FBI agent. [Orlando Sentinel, 3-4-10]

Least Competent Criminals

• (1) Jonathon Smith, 27, was arrested in March in Fairbanks, Alaska shortly after his release on bail on charges that he tried to buy three trucks from local dealers using forged checks. His latest arrest came at Seekins Ford, where, according to police, he was trying to buy yet another pickup truck with a forged check. (2) Falmouth, Mass. police hired John Yarrington as a confidential informant on Feb. 16, setting him up with $100 in marked bills to make a cocaine buy from dealer Cory Noonan, which Yarrington completed. He left the scene, but less than 10 minutes later, before Noonan could be arrested, Yarrington returned and, according to police, attempted to buy more cocaine on his own.

Undignified Deaths

• (1) A 36-year-old man drowned in Denville, NJ in January during a friendly swimming competition with a pal, as they raced underneath a 30-yard long ice patch on partially frozen Indian Lake. (2) New York City police believe that drug-gang hit man Hector Quinones, 44, shot three men to death in a high-rise apartment in December, but allowed a woman in the apartment to escape when he tripped on his own baggy pants while chasing her. As police arrived, Quinones climbed out onto the fire escape but accidentally fell off and broke his neck.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 2002) • Two-time convicted bank robber Mark Turner filed a lawsuit against Canada’s Parole Board in 2001 because the board had released him early from prison in 1987 from a previous sentence. The board should have kept him inside until that sentence ran out in 1994, he said, and it was thus the board’s fault that while on parole, Turner had robbed another bank and had again been locked up. By 1994, he said, he would have been more mature and would not have re-offended, and for the parole board’s error, it should pay him the equivalent of $1 million.

‘© 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate