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10/12/2006

Columns > News of the Weird

NEWS OF THE WEIRD

 

English eccentrics

At the York Crown Court in England in September, Antonia Pearson-Gaballonie, 36, was convicted of having enslaved a 26-year-old housekeeper from 1997 to 2005 despite her defense that the woman had actually been earning the equivalent of about $55 a week during that time. Pearson-Gaballonie said that all the housekeeper would have had to do was ask for it, but she never did.

At the Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court in England in July, Andrew Curzon was charged with wrongfully attempting to cash a neighbor’s pension-adjustment check, the equivalent of about $220,000. The explanation by Curzon (who is a law student) is that he has “dyspraxia,” which renders him unable “to engage in logical thinking.”

After police found 638 marijuana plants in a Hastings, England, warehouse rented by David Churchward in September, he said he was forced to grow the plants (which would make more than 280,000 marijuana cigarettes) to help his wife, because she has difficulty sleeping.

The 30-year-old traditional festival of eel-“bowling” in the fishing village of Lyme Regis, England, was canceled in July after complaints from an animal rights activist that it was disrespectful to eels. In the ritual, teams of anglers stand on platforms and swing a giant (dead) conger eel, attached to the ceiling, to see who will be the last person standing. Said a spokesman for the charitable event, which raises money for lifeboat crews, “But it’s a dead conger, for Pete’s sake. I shouldn’t think the conger could care one way or another.”

Reality bites

In the midst of violence and despair in Baghdad, at least two institutions are working smoothly, according to September stories in, respectively, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Iraq Star, an American Idol-type reality TV show, attracted 10,000 contestants for 45 slots in filming at the downtown Baghdad Hotel, and will be shown locally and around the Arab world. Other reality-style shows are in the works.

Second, the almost 3,500 Baghdad traffic officers still command high respect despite the city’s other problems. Said an engineer, “The traffic law is the only thing nowadays that functions correctly.” In fact, the website of the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani contains a query whether it is permissible, even when a driver has the street all to himself, to violate traffic laws; the ayatollah’s answer is no.

Plastic bag

In an August rafting tournament on the Vuoksa River near St. Petersburg, Russia, which used only inflatable dolls of the kind typically sold in adult boutiques, Igor Osipov, 40, was disqualified upon finishing the race when (according to a report by Moscow News) observers “saw signs of recent sexual activity on (Osipov)’s doll.”

Charmers

In Tacoma, Wash., in September, a smirking Ulysses Hardy III, 24, pleaded guilty to three aggravated murders, laughed at the victims’ families in court, and told them to “get over it” and that “pain is part of life.” Hardy said there are two kinds of people, “us and them, predators and prey,” and that he’s “damn sure not prey. … (I) did what I did. And that’s not going to change.”

A week earlier in Norristown, Pa., Janeske Vargas, 35, was sentenced to life in prison for setting a friend on fire with vodka and nail polish remover, but said she had nothing to say in court to her friend’s family. “No, why should I? … They’ll get over it.”

The powder room

Leon Howard Matter was arrested in Sandusky, Ohio, in August for sending a letter containing “anthrax” (though it turned out to be harmless powder) to the local FBI office. He told agents the reason he did it was because he was facing earlier child pornography charges and didn’t want to go to prison for that because he’d get beaten up. Threatening the FBI, he reasoned, has more cachet.

And New Yorkers Donald Ray Bilby, 30, in July, and Abdullah Date, 18, in August, were, respectively, convicted and arrested for sending anthrax threats to authorities in envelopes that each contained their correct return addresses. (Date allegedly also included a taunting note reading, “Catch me if you can.”)

Hypocritical mass

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio agreed to plead guilty in September to corruption charges stemming from investigations of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Though Ney faces as much as 27 months in prison, he will still be eligible for a congressional pension (based on 12 years’ service) when he gets out. Earlier this year, Congress passed a corruption-reform bill that Ney enthusiastically supported, which would have caused a congressman in Ney’s position to forfeit his pension, but the bill has been stalled in a House-Senate conference and was not enacted before Ney’s plea was accepted.

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