News of the Weird
• Briton Robert Dee, feeling humiliated at being called the “world’s worst tennis pro” by London’s Daily Telegraph (and other news organizations) sued the newspaper for libel last year. After taking testimony in February 2010, the judge tossed out the lawsuit in April, persuaded by Dee’s having lost 54 consecutive international tour matches (all in straight sets). Fearful of an opposite result, 30 other news organizations had already apologized to Dee for disparaging him, and some even paid him money in repentance, but the Telegraph had stood its ground (and was, of course, humble in victory, titling its story on the outcome, “’World’s Worst’ Tennis Player Loses Again”).
The ConTinuing Crisis
• Mexican police, raiding a suspected hideout of drug kingpin Oscar Nava Valencia in the city of Zapopan in December, found the expected items (weapons, drugs, cash) but also 38 gold- or silver-plated guns emblazoned with ornate designs and studded with diamonds, which it placed on public display in May. Included were seven bejeweled assault weapons.
• In war-torn Gaza, with little relief from the tedium of destruction and poverty, the Mediterranean Sea offers some relief, especially for about 40 people who belong to the Gaza Surf Club, riding waves on secondhand, beatendown boards. While the waves might not be as challenging as those in Huntington Beach, Calif., the surfers nonetheless must be skilled enough to avoid the estimated 60 million liters of raw sewage that Gaza city, with no practical alternative, has routinely emptied into the sea.
• An April ABC News TV report featured a Westford, Mass. couple as the face of the “radical unschooling” philosophy, which challenges both the formal classroom system and home schooling. Typically, home-schooling parents believe they can organize their kids’ educations better than schools can, but “unschoolers” simply put kids on their own, free to decide by themselves what, or whether, to learn any of the traditional school subjects. There is no punishment, no judgment, no discipline. The key, said parent Christine Yablonski, “is that you’ve got to trust your kids.” For example, “If they [decide that they] need formal algebra understanding … they’ll find that information.”
• Bolinas, Calif., north of San Francisco, is famously reclusive, even to the point of residents’ removing state highway signs pointing to the town, hoping that outsiders will get lost en route and give up the quest. It limits its population to about 1,500 by officially fixing the number of municipal water hookups at 580, but in April, one of the meters became available when the city purchased a residential lot to convert to a park. The meter was to be sold at a May auction, with a minimum bid of $300,000.
• A recent French documentary in the form of a TV show called “Game of Death” mimics the notorious 1950s human-torture experiments of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, who would coax test subjects to administer increasingly painful jolts of electricity to strangers to assess their obedience to an “authority figure,” even if contrary to their own moral codes. As in Milgram’s experiments, the “Game of Death” “victims” were actors, unharmed but paid to scream louder with each successive “shock.” According to a BBC News report, 82 percent of the game’s players were willing torturers, a higher percentage than Milgram found, but the TV show’s subjects had greater encouragement, cheered on by a raucous studio audience and a glamorous hostess.
• According to an April lawsuit filed by an employee of the five-star Ritz-Carlton resort in Naples, Fla., the hotel complied with a February request by a wealthy British traveler that, during their stay, his family not be served by “people of colour” or anyone who spoke with a “foreign accent.” The hotel has apologized to the employee, but denied that it had complied with the traveler’s request. (Lawyers for the employee told the Associated Press that nine witnesses and a copy of a computer entry prove their claim.)
• Good News/Bad News: Based on April federal indictments of organized crime members in New York and New Jersey, it appears that any “glass ceiling” to management in the exclusively male Gambino family has been cracked in that at least one woman, Suzanne Porcelli, 43, was indicted among the 14 family members and associates. However, the Gambino “farm system” is apparently weak, in that with the imprisonment of John Gotti and other experienced capos, the organization appears headed in historically unfamiliar directions, most notably in child prostitution. Until now, even the most vicious of Mafiosi historically, heroically, protected women and children from the families’ “business.”
• Spectacular errors: (1) Milton High School beat Westlake, 56-46, for the Georgia 5A boys’ basketball championship in March. Westlake’s chances evaporated during the pre-game warm-ups, when their Georgia-playerof-the-year candidate Marcus Thornton was forced to sit after spraining his ankle leaping to ceremonially hip-bump a teammate. (2) Two North Carolina surgeons were issued official “letters of concern” in January for a 2008 incident in which they performed a C-section on a woman who was not pregnant. (They relied on an intern’s confused diagnosis and followed an ultrasound with no heartbeat and several obviously failed attempts to induce labor.)
• Frustrated customers frequently challenge bills, and occasionally, “rescission” of the original deal is a suitable remedy. However, it’s not suitable for some services. Deborah Dillow was late with the $150 she allegedly owed to the Bomb Squad dog waste pick-up service in Bend, Ore. in April, and appeared to be avoiding calls at her home. The Bomb Squad owner, frustrated by the delays, simply returned all the work done to that point on Dillow’s property in one big pile, in her front yard.
ALCOHOL WAS INVOLVED
• The wonder drug: (1) Donald Wolfe, 55, was charged with public drunkenness in March in Brookville, Pa. after neighbors spotted him giving, as he described it, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a roadkill possum along Route 36. (2) A 62-yearold man suffered second-degree burns after launching himself on a makeshift, rocket-powered sled in Independence Township, Mich. in January. Witnesses said he put on a helmet, then strapped a contraption consisting of a motorcycle muffler, a pipe, gunpowder, match heads and gasoline on his back, and had someone light the wick to send him blasting through the snow.
LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS
• Overconfident “artists”: (1) Clair Arthur Smith, 42, of Cape Coral, Fla., was charged with forgery in May after he allegedly tried to doctor the amount of a check he had received from Bank of America. Converting the “$10” check to $100, or even $100,000, would seem plausible, but Smith tried to deposit the check into his account after he had marked it up to “$269,951.00.” (2) A 17-year-old was arrested in College Station, Texas in January and charged with trying to pass a homemade $5 bill at a restaurant. Police said the bill’s front and back had been computer-scanned and then pasted together but that the front of the bill was longer than the back.
A NEWS OF THE WEIRD CLASSIC (MAY 2000)
• Among the ill-fated public relations moves by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company to counteract the industry’s cascading legal problems in the year 2000 were these automated telephone announcements for 800-number callers (according to an April 2000 New York Times story): (1) a male chorus serenading callers with, “Oooh, the tobacco plant is a lovely plant/ Its leaves so broad and green/ But you shouldn’t think about the tobacco plant/ If you’re still a teen,” and (2) an earlier message featuring a sexy male voice intoning, “Brown & Williamson Tobacco is in love. We’re a giant corporation, and you make us feel like a little kitten.” “Thank you, lover.”
‘ 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate