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News of the Weird

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According to a July New York Times report, Muslim guerrillas at war with government troops in the southern islands of the Philippines recently uncovered documents with army troops' cell phone numbers and now regularly send insulting text messages to the enemy during lulls in combat.

The sudden January death of wealthy former Kansas stockbroker Marshall Gardiner at age 85 created a constitutional-law crisis when Gardiner's only offspring, Joe, 53, learned that his father's new 40-year-old bride had been born male. Ms. J'Noel Gardiner had had her Wisconsin birth certificate changed to reflect her new gender; the change is legal in Kansas City, Missouri, where she lives, but not in Kansas, where she got married. She said she disclosed the situation to her husband before the wedding; Joe said his father was too religious to have accepted it. The fate of Marshall's estate is still in the courts.

The Importance of Alcohol

More evidence that drinking is the cornerstone of weird news: In Reno a retired police officer was arrested on suspicion of DUI in May after he pulled into a gas station and attempted to withdraw money from a gas pump, as if it were an ATM. Also in May a drawbridge operator in Saint Pete Beach, Florida, was fired for drinking on the job after he opened the bridge without warning, forcing a car to leap the gap. And again in May a 24-year-old man in Ottawa partying with two friends leaped from a roof into a Dumpster and landed, seat-first, on a piece of wood studded with nails.

Can't Possibly Be True

In February officials at a nuclear storage site in West Valley, New York, who've spent $1.5 billion and 18 years on a radiation cleanup, began testing the latest product they hope will do the job: zeolite, the primary ingredient in cat litter. Zeolite apparently sucks up strontium 90 just as well as it absorbs odors and moisture in the litter box.

In May, to forestall a California Health Department crackdown, LaserVue Eye Center sent letters notifying 2,700 patients who had recently undergone operations that it had been reusing its single-use surgical blades after merely rinsing them in water. Investigators found that the company did at least sterilize the blades after every fourth use. LaserVue's Dr. Sanjay Bansal allegedly said he continued to use the blades because he wanted only ones that he was sure had worked.

In June England's Nottingham Evening Post profiled archer Paul Hawthorne, who has won various titles despite the fact that he lost an arm in a motorcycle accident 15 years ago. Until recently, Hawthorne competed by holding the bow string with a leather strap in his teeth, but that practice has cost him several teeth, and he believes his competitive archery days are over.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

May dispatches in the Times of London and the Daily Telegraph featured Veronique Jullien's School of Seduction in Paris (with 2,000 graduates since 1995), which teaches men to pick up strangers and women to attract them. The nine-month curriculum costs about $2,300, but a one-month crash course costs about $1,000. Jullien's most helpful tip: "Everything happens in the first few seconds of contact."

Recycling in Beijing, according to a February New York Times report, is relatively efficient because a crew of about 80,000 rural migrants rummages through the city's garbage every day to pick out anything that can be resold or sent to recycling plants. "We're performing a valuable service for the city," said one garbage picker, "but everyone looks down on us." Another said he now earns almost 20 times as much as he did as a schoolteacher in a rural province (but still only about $70 a month), and some workers even make enough money to pay hotels for exclusive rights to their garbage.

In May two boys, ages 15 and 16, were charged in West Bend, Wisconsin, with forming a business that took customers' orders for common items and filled them by shoplifting from local stores, mostly Wal-Mart. The boys carried business cards and order forms for their company, Globex, whose mission statement was, "To provide you with the things that you need at the cost you deserve."

In March a court in Osaka squelched a software program created by Takuya Kiuchi, 33, which removes the digital blurring that soft-porn Web sites use to hide genitals from unintended viewers. And in June, John Young, operator of a private Web site on national security issues, discovered he could download (from the New York Times Web site) the original CIA report on the 1953 Iranian coup before the black censor bars could appear and hide classified parts of the report. Young posted the report on his site. The CIA said it has figured out how to prevent recurrences.

Slow Learner

In June the Kentucky supreme court suspended lawyer Robert Michael Stevenson for five years for failing to pursue a client's case and then for lying to the client about it. At the time of his suspension, Stevenson was already under a five-year suspension handed down in February. In the eight months before that, Stevenson had been suspended three other times: for 181 days in October, for 90 days in September, and briefly in July.

Recurring Themes

Last year News of the Weird reported that the navy was to begin using copies of Microsoft's Flight Simulator software ($50 each) to train pilots, reducing the need for commercial jet simulators. In April of this year Japan's trade ministry notified Sony Computer Entertainment that it would need government approval to export the PlayStation2 version of the simulator because the technology is so sophisticated that it could be used for guided missile systems.

Least Competent Criminals

Police in El Cerrito, California, arrested David Hill, 18, in April, for carjacking. According to police, the victim was a man he had met earlier in the day while in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. All the victim had to do was go to the DMV office and select the carjacker's photo from among that day's applications. And Joey Donnel Simmons, 29, was sentenced in March to 30 years in prison by a Houston judge for the armed robbery of taxi drivers. Simmons came to the attention of the police when he and his accomplice walked into a station house to inquire about the reward posted for catching the robbers.

In the Last Month

In Delta, Iowa, a 42-year-old man illustrated his sewer problems at a city council meeting by dumping a five-gallon bucket of human waste on the meeting table. In Damietta, Egypt, a 35-year-old pregnant woman, just sentenced to three years in prison for drug trafficking, gave birth in the courtroom and named the girl "Ginaya" ("felony"). A 56-year-old man in Boulder was arrested for forcing a man at knifepoint to urinate into a cup. A Toronto community group announced free distribution of "clean" crack pipes to the city's "most marginalized" crack cocaine users.

In Laredo, Texas, the border patrol announced it had broken up a smuggling scheme in which Mexicans were given bikes and biking gear and sent speeding through border crossings as if they were part of an international race.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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