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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

The attorney for alleged San Francisco dog abuser Steven Maul said in November that Maul bit his dog in the neck as part of an unorthodox but loving discipline method and that in fact Maul "is very oral" and "has French-kissed his dog." According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Boo, an 80-pound Lab, had darted out into traffic in November (again), and Maul, intending to break the dog's habit, clamped down on his neck to signal dominance. He did not break the skin.

In October, Reverend Derek McAleer revealed to his 350 United Methodist parishioners in Saint Marys, Georgia, that their church had become the recipient of what is believed to be the largest onetime church donation in history: $50 million from the estate of the recently deceased founder of the local telephone company. The donor, Warren Bailey, a longtime church supporter, was also known for not having attended services in more than 20 years.

Election News

In the September 19 primary in New Ashford, Massachusetts, none of the town's 202 registered voters cast a ballot, including the town clerk, who manned the polls for 14 hours. A Green Party candidate for the Maine legislature failed to vote for himself in the June primary, leaving him with zero votes and forcing him to return his public financing. And the money flowed so freely at the GOP convention in August that Philadelphia Inquirer reporters discovered a lobbyist's check for $5,000 stuck to the bottom of a utility cart outside the hall.

Great Art!

The Golden Tower Project, an installation by Seattle artists at this year's Burning Man Festival, consisted of 400 jars of urine from other artists, stacked and electroluminescently lit. According to Seattle weekly The Stranger, the effect was "gorgeous," "faintly blue and gold," and "warm, kind of like biological stained glass."

Signed to a summer contract with the city of Montreal, artist Devora Neumark performed "The Art of Conversation," which consisted of her standing at the entrance to a subway station from noon to 4 PM every Tuesday and "conducting spontaneous interchange with interested parties on a variety of topics."

Frontiers of Science

A U.S. Forest Service researcher announced in August that her team had discovered the largest living thing ever found, a 2,400-year-old fungus covering 2,200 acres in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. DNA testing confirmed that the structure was indeed a single organism. Three weeks later near Lake Okeechobee, a University of Florida biologist found what he called an "evolutionary relic": a previously unknown carnivorous flowering plant that somehow grows entirely underground using photosynthesis.

An August BBC documentary, Brain Story, featured a man whose cranial lobes were surgically severed in order to treat epilepsy and who can now perform what he calls the "party trick" of drawing different designs with each of his hands at the same time.

Japan's Mizuno Corporation has developed a synthetic material for men's underpants that would keep the covered area one Celsius degree cooler than cotton underwear and would therefore be useful for athletes (and, say doctors, for men desiring increased sperm production), according to an August New Scientist report. Canadian underwear manufacturer Stanfield's Limited disputed Mizuno's claim of superiority, but a Stanfield's spokesman said, "We just haven't got up the guts to measure the temperature of someone's crotch yet."

Winning Isn't Everything; It's the Only Thing

Thomas Lavery, 56, was charged in Akron, Ohio, in August with nine counts of roughing up two of his superachieving homeschooled daughters when they performed below his expectations. According to the indictment, after one daughter came in second in the National Spelling Bee, botching "cappelletti," Lavery threatened to kill her and had to be physically restrained. The girl told the Akron Beacon Journal that Lavery would punch them in the head for their failures and that screaming and profanity were common. Lavery complained to the Associated Press that he was "easier on [his kids] than my father was [on me]."

Update

News of the Weird reported in 1999 on a lawsuit filed by 5,400 descendants of 18th-century Welsh pirate Robert Edwards claiming ownership of 77 acres of lower Manhattan (including the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange). In August 2000, four descendants allegedly found a copy of a 1778 lease, which had been given to Edwards by a grateful King George, stating that Edwards's heirs would get the land back in 1877. The value of the land is now conservatively estimated at $750 billion, or $140 million per descendant. Courts in South Wales, New York City, and Pittsburgh have opened proceedings.

Least Competent Criminals

Cocaine "mule" Jose Antonio Campos-Cloute was arrested at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, in September due to a momentary lapse: as he was filling out the customs form, he absentmindedly checked "yes" in response to whether he was carrying illicit substances. Briton Alison McKinnon was sentenced in August to five years in a Turkish prison for attempting to smuggle out six pounds of heroin strapped to her chest; she was ready to board a plane home from Istanbul but was searched when her body piercings set off a metal detector.

In the Last Month

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn a Californian's drug possession conviction even though one juror admitted he made his decision by flipping a coin. (The juror defended himself by noting that he made it best two out of three.) An Atlantic City casino introduced a row of stationary bicycles rigged with 25-cent slot machines. And doctors in San Diego revealed that transplanting portions of a woman's ovaries into her arm allowed her to grow new eggs for in vitro fertilization.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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

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