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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Steven Newell of London, Ontario, was hospitalized in June after relocating a large plastic aboveground pool from his lawn--where he'd have to put a fence around it, police had told him--to his second-story balcony. Eight feet across and filled to a depth of 20 inches, the pool contained about 630 gallons of water, weighing roughly two and a half tons; Newell was relaxing in it when the balcony collapsed.

Latest Religious Messages

In a July article about an Oregon woman's protracted legal battle for child support from her son's father--a Catholic seminarian at the time the child was conceived and currently a priest in southern California--the Los Angeles Times summarized a brief filed in 1994 under the name of William Levada, then archbishop of Portland, which argued in part that the woman had been negligent by engaging in "unprotected intercourse." Upon reading of this position, some Catholics expressed dismay, pointing out that the church considers birth control "intrinsically evil"; Levada, now a cardinal, holds Pope Benedict XVI's old job as the Vatican's chief official in charge of doctrine.

Compelling Explanations

South Korean superstar scientist Hwang Woo-suk, leader of a team that has this year successfully cloned an Afghan hound and created 11 new stem cell lines that are immunologically compatible with specific DNA donors, told the journal Nature Medicine in April that Koreans have an advantage over Westerners in delicate laboratory work, saying precision tasks were best done by "Oriental hands": "We can pick up very slippery corn or rice with the steel chopsticks."

In Port Washington, Wisconsin, in August, Ronald Schueller was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to undergo counseling for having tried to hire someone to knock his estranged wife unconscious ("Don't hurt her. Maybe just bruise her a little," he'd said) and lock her in the trunk of a car. Schueller, 58, had apparently gotten the idea from an episode of Dr. Phil in which the host said that sometimes "a good scare" helps people recognize their delusions. Also in August, two of Jessica Stakelbeck's children, ages one and three, were found along the side of U.S. 31 in Franklin, Indiana, wearing nothing but diapers; Stakelbeck, 22, explained to police that she'd passed out in their nearby motel room because she hadn't had any methamphetamine in a few days.

Latest Rights

Eric Laverriere, 25, filed a federal lawsuit in Boston in July, claiming that when police in Waltham, Massachusetts, broke up a New Year's Eve party at a friend's house and took him into protective custody for drunkenness (under a state law allowing them to detain someone who might be a threat to himself or others), they violated his constitutional right to be drunk on private property.

The Litigious Society

Alan Hauser and his 75-year-old mother-in-law, Barbara Connors, were sitting in an idling SUV in October 2004 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, when Hauser accidentally hit the accelerator, causing the vehicle to jump the curb and plunge down an embankment into the Connecticut River. Police and volunteers (afterward cited for heroism) pulled Connors out of the water 30 minutes later, during which time she had suffered serious brain damage. (Hauser managed to get out on his own.) Last month lawyers for Connors sued six town officials, charging that a properly equipped rescue dive team should have been kept at the ready, the chain-link fence alongside the river should have been stronger, and more warning signs should have been posted nearby. Hauser was also sued; the lawyers had previously declared intent to sue the actual rescuers as well but chose not to.

In July, Jeanette Passalaqua, 32, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino, California, against Kaiser Foundation Hospitals for the wrongful death of her 33-year-old husband, Steven. When Jeanette was in labor in June 2004, Kaiser staff asked Steven to hold her steady while she received an epidural; he fainted at the sight of the needle, hit his head, and days later died of a brain hemorrhage.

After Geoffrey Moore was arrested last year (but before the nature of the charges became known), his employer, a publishing company in Buxhall, England, that specializes in hymn books, let him keep his job; he agreed to resign if he went to jail. Upon learning that Moore, now 65, had been charged with the sexual abuse of a four-year-old girl, the publisher fired him. Moore, who pleaded guilty to six counts of indecency and inciting, received probation and was registered as a sex offender; in July he filed an unfair-dismissal suit.

Ironies

In April the Chinese government announced this year's list of 845 "vanguard workers," a title bestowed every five years upon citizens who, though not traditional laborers, nonetheless embody communist ideals of selflessness and sacrifice. Among the honorees was Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who resides in Texas and in 2003 made about $14.5 million in salary and endorsements, or roughly 14,500 times what his fellow workers typically earn.

News That Sounds Like a Joke

In June, Anne Hiltner, a 58-year-old freelance writer from New Jersey, sued Stephen King (as well as his publishers and various movie studios) for $500 million, charging him with invasion of privacy, defamation, and copyright infringement. Among other things, she claimed that she was the basis for the character Annie Wilkes in King's 1987 novel Misery--a psychotic woman who imprisons and tortures the famous author she's obsessed with. In a suit filed in 1991, Hiltner had accused King of repeatedly breaking into her house to steal manuscripts written by her and her brother.

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

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