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In March a German animal-rights group called attention to a Spanish gun sport in which weeks-old quail are fired from a cannon into the air as targets. Noting that the group had previously singled Spain out as the cruelest to animals of any European country, Der Spiegel cited the northwestern village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, which until 2000 observed an annual custom of flinging a live goat from its church tower. The group's director did point out, however, that animals fared poorly in some traditional German pastimes as well: in "tomcat poking," practiced at least as recently as a 2004 bachelor party in Wiednitz, a cat is sealed in a crate with a hole in one side, through which participants jab it with a broomstick; "goose clubbing," where players try to literally knock the head off a bird strung up by its feet, persists too, though now typically the goose starts out already dead.

Safety First

A spokesperson for Bramhall High School in Stockport, England, insisted in March that concern over possible accidents was behind a recent decision requiring students to wear clip-on ties, rather than the conventionally knotted kind, as part of the school uniform. A few weeks later the Daily Mail reported that the British governmental agency that enforces health and safety laws had warned its own staff not to try moving office chairs and tables by themselves but to instead call a porter 48 hours in advance. (The article acknowledged that the health and safety office did, in fact, have an excellent workplace safety record.)

Scared Attentive

Faced with certain realities--the impending retirement of Japan's baby boomers, the long life expectancy of Japanese men, the rising numbers of divorces initiated by long-married Japanese women, and an impending law change that would give such women a larger share of their ex-husbands' pensions--a group called the Japan Adoring Husbands Association held its second annual "Beloved Wives Day" in January: men were encouraged to get home from work by 8 PM, look their wives in the eye, and thank them.

Government in Action

Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalitional Provisional Authority, admitted to the House oversight committee in February that in the week before the U.S. restored sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, 363 tons of shrink-wrapped U.S. cash on 484 pallets--totaling more than $4 billion--were airlifted into the country for use by the new government. The CPA apparently didn't keep track of much of it; according to a 2005 report, $8.8 billion of the $12 billion it distributed in Iraq wound up unaccounted for.

Priorities

When police responding to complaints of a foul smell arrived at a small 15th-floor Toronto apartment in March, they found a nearly textbook scene of animal hoarding: 300 to 400 pigeons flying around and roosting in the open, about 250 caged mice driven to cannibalism by lack of other food, and a thick layer of droppings coating the floor and furniture. But though the apartment's human occupant, a man in his 60s, was detained under Ontario mental-health law, he had apparently been rational enough to keep his sizable collection of pornography carefully wrapped in plastic to protect it from damage. In the same month 53-year-old engineer Michael Palmer was arraigned in Santa Clara County, California; authorities said he'd kept a huge collection of child pornography (possibly the largest ever seized in the Bay Area) in ammunition canisters buried around his primitive cabin in the mountains near Silicon Valley.

Least Competent Criminals

a burglar sneaked into the church in the Ukrainian village of Klevan in February, apparently hoping to steal gold fixtures and money, but fell asleep and got locked inside the building, which is used only on weekends. According to the Kiev newspaper Segodnya, the church's heavy doors and barred windows kept him from breaking out, and he survived on stale bread and sacramental wine until priests returned five days later.

Least Competent People

In federal court in March 20-year-old Anthony Perone pleaded guilty to sending two threatening letters to a Connecticut woman with whom he'd attended third and fourth grade. According to the FBI, the first of the erratic letters contained a drawing of the woman's tombstone and the warning "your house will be destroyed"; the second featured a representation of her severed head (labeled "your head") and concluded, "I will never Stop until you are mine. Love Death Stalker." Though Perone, who lived with his parents, had intended for the letters to be anonymous, he made the mistake of having his mother mail them; noticing he hadn't put his name and return address on the envelopes, she added the information herself before sending them off. (The FBI said items found in the Perones' house in Minnesota included a brand-new assault rifle, a freshly sharpened machete, and "to-do lists" in which Perone kept track of possible places to stay in Connecticut and supplies he still needed: mask, glass cutter, grenades, etc.)

Readers' Choice

On a March British Airways flight from Delhi to London, 54-year-old passenger Paul Trinder woke up to find flight personnel buckling a dead body into the seat next to him. A woman in her 70s had died a few hours after takeoff, and in accordance with the airline's standard "corpse policy" (according to figures released later, the airline loses about one passenger a month) her body was moved from the plane's coach section to an empty seat in the less-congested first-class cabin. Also in March, border guards stopped a woman entering Gaza from Egypt whose body appeared oddly lumpy beneath her loose robes. A search revealed three 20-inch crocodiles, possibly destined for sale to Gaza's zoo, strapped to her waist; their mouths had been tied shut with string.

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

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