News of the Weird

* England's Plymouth University announced in March that it would offer an "academically rigorous" bachelor's degree in surfing beginning in September. The degree will be known formally as "surf science and technology" and will offer research opportunities in surfboard, wetsuit and accessory design, and furnish to society not only surfers and product developers but organizers of surfing events.

* Memo to New York City Mayor Giuliani: In March, more than 1,000 police officers in India completed a 10-day retreat at which they practiced traditional Vippasana meditation, with top officers lauding the session as a way to prevent brutality on the job. Said one newly mellow cop, "Today I bear no malice or ill will to anyone." In addition to 12 daily hours of meditation and introspection, the retreat required total silence, no sex and a regimen of fruit and cereals.

* In February, a court in London, England, convicted restaurateur Sarah Kyolaba Amin, 42, the ex-wife of former Ugandan dictator (and, reportedly, sometime cannibal) Idi Amin, of several major health-code violations in the eatery (named "S") that she owns. Authorities cited "heavy and active" cockroach and mouse infestation and "filth" throughout the kitchen and inside a refrigerator.

* In separate incidents over a 48-hour period in March, a fuming Spring Hill, Tenn., man fired about 90 rounds from an AK-47 point-blank into his car alongside a major highway after it died on him, and another man was turned down at the courthouse in Knoxville, Tenn., when he applied for a marriage license to make his 1996 Mustang his bride, after a depressing split with his girlfriend.

* In December, the Kirkwood, Mo., home of Dennis and Bonnie Miller suffered extensive fire damage when the turkey they tried to deep-fry on a grill for Christmas burned a hole in the pot and ignited a propane cylinder. And in February, Canadian fugitive Allen Charles Whitequill, 42, on the lam for two years on murder charges, was captured in Carrizozo, N.M., during a burglary when he attempted to cook a frozen turkey in an office microwave oven. (He badly undercooked it and became sick, and when he sought a restroom, he accidentally locked the door behind him and could not get out before police arrived.)

* In March, former Fairfax County, Va., school principal Anthony M. Rizzo Jr., 62, escaped with a hung jury on charges that he had repeatedly raped a l0-year-old girl in the 1980s. The jury had not been allowed to know one fact about Rizzo: In 1998 he had won a permanent disability retirement from the state of Virginia, worth three times what ordinary retirement is worth, with the "disability" being a "psychosexual disorder" that makes him unable to supervise females without also trying to force sex on them. (At the time Rizzo was fighting for the disability, he was also denying the claims of eight female former co-workers who said they were victims of Rizzo's "disorder.")

* Charlie Smith, 45, told authorities in Austin, Texas, in February that he might plead guilty to crimes in connection with a yearlong series of scams that bilked people out of more than $1 million but that he wanted people to know he wasn't a bad person. He told the Austin American-Statesman that his nearly lifelong urge to rip people off traces back to a day in 1969 when his car slipped off the jack while he was working on it, landing on him, cracking his skull and changing him morally.

* Richard Davis, 51, defending his bankruptcy filing in London, England, in March, said it was a nasal decongestant by Novartis Pharmaceuticals that made him extravagant and irrational. And Gregory DeLozier, 35, explaining the attempted-murder charge against him in Trenton, N.J., said in January that it was the sediment from a bottle of iced tea he drank that produced the weird side effects that made him stab his wife. And in January, inmate (and former gardener) James R. Moore, 64, tried to get his 1962 Rochester, N.Y., murder conviction overturned, pointing out that it was his exposure to the insecticide dieldrin that made him lose his head and commit the murder.

* The Rhode Island Supreme Court publicly reprimanded lawyer John F. Pellizzari in March for having had a three-month sexual relationship with a divorce client while continuing to represent her in negotiations with her husband. Pellizzari admitted the relationship but blamed it on the client, who he said had a "premeditated plan" to "coerce" him into sex, removed his clothes against his will and physically forced herself on him.

* In March, the city of Yenshui, Taiwan, held a fireworks show to commemorate stamping out the plague bacteria by fire more than 100 years ago. Villagers wearing bulky protective clothing stood in front of the fireworks, which this year consisted of bottle rockets, hoping to be hit by the missiles, which would bring good luck. Apparently, some of the rockets exploded only after being propelled into the bulky clothing, creating serious injuries to about 30 lucky people.

* A March Los Angeles Times story reported on the royal Siamese-cat family (numbering about 50) of Thailand, which is said to be special because they are direct descendants of the cats of the beloved King Rama V. The family is believed to be the last of the pure khao manee breed ("diamond eyes") in the country and generally live in luxury, in teak-paneled quarters with gold and silver dishes and three specially prepared meals a day. Six years ago, a Thai khao manee was reportedly sold for about $4 million.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or Weird@

 
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