news of the weird

by Chuck Shepherd

• Civilization indecline: “Tom Tom,”a 2-year-old Yorkshireterrier, was laid to restat the Oakland Cemeteryin Monticello,Ark. in March, eventhough he was in goodhealth. His owner,Donald Ellis, had justpassed away but hadleft explicit instructions that he wanted TomTom buried along with him, and not later on,because he felt that no one could love Tom Tomas much as he did. Ellis’ reluctant family finallytook Tom Tom to a veterinarian, who tried tochange their minds but ultimately acquiescedand euthanized the dog out of fear that theywould put him down anyway, less humanely.The Entrepreneurial Spirit!• Unlikely successes:(1) In July, the world’slargest four-day rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up, released a signature-brand men’s cologne,Let’er Buck, to mark the company’s 100th anniversary.A spokesman claimed that the $69-abottleproduct has the fragrance of “sensuousmusk and warm sandalwood.” (2) Thai Airwaysannounced in June that it would begin sellingseven curry sauces directly from its airline foodmenu in take-out shops in Bangkok, Phuket andChiang Mai.• Shaking up the condom market: (1) TheSwiss government announced in March that itwould help bring to market “extra”-small condomsfor boys as young as 12. (The decreasein circumference from a “standard” condomwould be about 5/16th of an inch.) (2) The WashingtonPost reported in May that high schooland college-age adults had complained thatcondoms given away by the District of Columbia’sHIV-prevention program were of too-lowquality and that the city should spring for deluxeTrojan Magnums (in gold-colored packaging,giving them, said a city official, “a little bit ofthe bling quality”).• In July, the prominent BrewDog brewery inAberdeenshire, Scotland began producing theworld’s strongest (and most expensive) beer,called the End of History, which is 55 percentalcohol and sells for 500 pounds ($780) a bottle.As if to enrage both anti-alcohol and animalwelfareactivists, BrewDog released the first 12bottles taxidermally inserted inside the carcassesof roadkill (seven ermines, four squirrels anda rabbit). Said company founder James Watt,BrewDog aims to “elevate the status of beer inour culture.”• At least two employees at the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, Calif. wereaccused in May of carrying on a makeshift“beauty salon” inside the facility’s NeonatalIntensive Care unit. Allegedly, eyebrowwaxes and manicures were given near sensitiveequipment used to combat infant infectionsand respiratory disorders. An investigation iscontinuing, but a hospital official said the notionof a “salon” was overblown and that perhaps afew nail treatments were involved. (Simultaneously,the facility is being investigated for takingkickbacks from nursing homes for placingdischarged Medicare or Medicaid patients intothose homes.)Weird Science• On an August ABC-TV “Nightline,” professorMatt Frerking of Oregon Health and ScienceUniversity allowed cameras to record his narcolepsy-like “cataplexy,” which causes temporarymuscle paralysis each time he contemplatesromantic love (hugging or holding hands withhis wife, viewing wedding pictures, witnessingaffectionate couples). He noted that he can oftenfend off an impending attack by concentratingon his own lab work in neuroscience.• Breakthroughs: (1) When Ron Sveden’s leftlung collapsed in May, doctors initially diagnoseda tumor, but on closer inspection learnedthat Sveden, of Brewster, Mass., had ingesteda plant seed that had somehow migrated to hislung and sprouted open. He is recovering. (2) APomeranian puppy recently found wanderingin San Bernardino, Calif. was diagnosed withreproductive-organ complications that destinedhim to be put down, but a woman volunteered$1,165 for “transgender” surgery. “Red” is nowhappy and ready for adoption (and of courseneutered).Leading Economic Indicators• To most, the toilet is a functional appliance,but to thoughtful people, it can be an instrumentupon which creativity blossoms. Thus, theprice tags were high this summer when commodesbelonging to two literary giants of the20th century went on sale. In August, a gaudilydesigned toilet from John Lennon’s 1969-71residence in Berkshire, England fetched 9,500pounds (about $14,740) at a Liverpool auction,and a North Carolina collectibles dealer openedbids on the toilet that long served reclusiveauthor JD Salinger at his home in Cornish,NH. The dealer’s initial price was $1 millionbecause, “Who knows how many of Salinger’sstories were thought up and written while [he]sat on this throne!”• Blairsville, Ga. advertising agency ownerMike Patterson introduced the “first ever patri

otic home-based business opportunity” recently, and, though it resembles a traditional “pyramid” scheme, Patterson termed it “network marketing” and an important way to fight government “tyranny.” For joining up at $12, $24 or $50 a year and enlisting others, Patterson promises recruiters “up to $50,000” (actually, up to $283,000 by securing $50 memberships). On spelling- and grammar-challenged web pages, Patterson laid out salesmanship “levels” and “matrix” patterns that promise a member 60 cents per $24 recruit – leaving $12 for patriotic programs and $11.40 for Patterson. (For some reason, after rounding up 29,523 members — Level 9 — the recruiter payout drops to 15 cents each.)

• In September, the Romanian Senate rejected a proposal by two legislators to regulate, and tax, fortune-tellers and “witches,” even though the government is otherwise desperately seeking new sources of revenue. A prominent witch had complained about potential record-keeping burdens on the “profession,” but one of the bill’s sponsors told the Associated Press he thinks opposition came from lawmakers who were frightened of having spells and curses placed on them.


• Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood continues in the thrall of what forensic experts everywhere discredit as pseudo-science (everywhere except Mississippi, that is). Hence, death-row inmate Eddie Lee Howard’s date with destiny approaches. Although only scant physical evidence was presented at his murder trial, the jury famously heard from local dentist Michael West, who, using fancy equipment, somehow identified scratches on the victim’s body as “bite marks” unique to Howard’s teeth. (In 2008, News of the Weird mentioned the DNA-inspired release of two accused Mississippi rapists who had served 12 years in prison — having also been positively identified by West on the basis of bite marks. Between then and now, West’s theories have been nationally, resoundingly rebuked, but the attorney general has chosen to defend Howard’s original, West-based conviction rather than look anew at the case, and Howard remains marked for execution.)

Questionable Judgments

• Disrespecting electricity: (1) New Hampshire teenager Kyle Dubois was critically injured in March when, during an electrical trades class, he and fellow students attached clamps to his nipples and plugged in an electrical cord. Dubois suffered permanent brain damage, and in August his parents sued the school district and the teacher. (2) As an alternative to the surgical scalpel, zapping a penis with electricity can produce a cleaner cut and with much less blood, according to a team of doctors from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Taiwan. Best of all, their July report noted, since the experiments were too risky for ordinary test volunteers, they performed all procedures on themselves.

A News of the Weird Classic (January 2003)

• In 2001, a woman filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota (Engleson vs. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce), seeking to recover for injuries she suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2002 by Judge Donovan Frank, who said that since the very purpose of the bright orange traffic cone is to warn of imminent risk, citizens should not need to be warned that they are approaching bright orange traffic cones.

‘© 2010 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate