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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Taking advantage of the California electricity crisis, Kaiser Aluminum, Columbia Falls Aluminum, and Golden Northwest Aluminum have suspended production in their plants along the Columbia River and are now reselling their electricity to California for 18 times what it cost them, according to a February report in Business Week. Kaiser says that aluminum production is unprofitable now anyway and that it still pays the workers in its idle plants. However, the regional power administration in Portland, Oregon, has pointed out that the firms acquired their rights to electricity only as aluminum producers, not as energy brokers, and wants them to give back some profits.

Some rugby players grab their opponents' genitals during tackles to intimidate them; in March the National Rugby League of Australia concluded that West Tigers player John Hopoate went too far by routinely jamming his finger up opponents' anuses and suspended him for 12 weeks. Hopoate resigned and several days later was back in the news announcing that he would seek legal action against the Cancer Society of New Zealand for using his photo in ads to publicize the value of prostate exams.

According to a report in the Pensacola News Journal, a 59-year-old man at a gas station in West Pensacola, Florida, was accidentally run over and torn in half by a slow-moving tractor-trailer on March 22, but his torso continued to show signs of life and paramedics airlifted it to the West Florida Regional Medical Center, where the man was not pronounced dead until about three and a half hours later.

Bodily Essences in the News

In February tennis star Boris Becker admitted that he fathered a baby girl by Russian model Angela Ermakova; just a month earlier, newspapers in Germany were reporting that he'd accused the model of impregnating herself with his sperm as part of an extortion plot engineered by Russian gangsters....In December a divorce court in West Palm Beach, Florida, ruled that socialite Nanette Sexton could have her husband's bedsheet tested to prove that it contained DNA from his girlfriend....And in the February issue of Nature, a University of Liverpool researcher found that male sheep on the Scottish island of Saint Kilda had so much sex during mating season (an average of 13 copulations per day) that they ran low on sperm, allowing many smaller, weaker rams to move up in the mating queue.

Can't Possibly Be True

Officials in the wealthy Silicon Valley town of Woodside, California (population 5,600), recently debated how to comply with a state law requiring that it have at least 16 "affordable housing" units (maximum rent for a one-bedroom apartment, $870). According to a November report by the Associated Press, the best they could come up with was allowing farmers to create "apartments" inside their barns.

According to a January issue of New Scientist, Frankfurt University researchers found that ants living in bamboo stems in Malaysian rain forests keep their nests dry by drinking any water that seeps in, exiting the nest, urinating, returning to the nest, and repeating the process over and over. The researchers found that two milliliters of water caused a colony's ants to urinate 3,000 droplets.

Unclear on the Concept

In December, after investigating the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada urged airlines to drastically shorten their checklists for detecting onboard fires from the cockpit. Swissair's checklist had taken about 30 minutes to run through; Flight 111 crashed 20 minutes after the first report of smoke.

Limited-edition posters advocating equal treatment for the blind were displayed this winter at the Truro Leisure Center in Truro, England, and the human resources department of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. However, sighted people couldn't read them because the words were only in Braille, and the blind couldn't read them because they were mounted behind glass to protect them.

Least Competent People

Marcus Calhoun, 24, was taken to the county jail in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 29 on several misdemeanor charges. He would have been given citations and released after several hours of paperwork and records checks, but he became restless, and when he heard the jailer call for a man who was asleep in a back cell, Calhoun pretended to be him and was released. Family members convinced him to turn himself in; he now faces a felony escape charge.

People Different From Us

According to a police report in the Oxford County Advertiser Democrat, a man in Norway, Maine, was arrested for indecent exposure in March after making a purchase at a convenience store with his zipper down and his genitals in plain view. A month earlier police summoned to his apartment house had discovered him fully clothed but with a frying pan inside his pants, which he said was to protect his genitals in case he got into a fight.

Thinning the Herd

In March a 19-year-old college student in Dunedin, New Zealand, was killed when she crashed into a parked trailer while joyriding inside a garbage can down what is believed to be the world's steepest street....In February a 16-year-old boy froze to death in Des Moines after becoming tangled in cables atop a church he had just burglarized....And in March a 19-year-old straight-A student at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, fell to his death from a dormitory balcony after losing his balance during a spitting-for-distance contest with two friends.

In the Last Month

A Maryland state agency reported that the number one cause of death of pregnant women for the years 1993-'98 was homicide....Several angry viewers made death threats against Philadelphia TV meteorologist John Bolaris in early March after he incorrectly forecast a snowstorm....And police in Christchurch, New Zealand, got burglar Stuart Robert McPherson's confession when he called up a victim just to taunt him about his "stuff [being] crap."

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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