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Archive for Thursday, January 3, 2002

THE MAG: News of the Weird

January 3, 2002

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In December, a Nevada association of private security guards who work at the federal government's super-secret "Area 51" at Groom Lake, 90 miles from Las Vegas, went on strike for higher wages and benefits. In fact, the association president told reporters he could not even divulge the location of his workplace but that the questioner should "use your imagination." When at work, the guards report to the airport in Las Vegas and are flown in nondescript planes to the site, which they are trained to refer to as "nowhere" and "out of town." The guards are called "camo dudes" locally because they wear camouflaged uniforms on patrol.

Recidivist voyeur Daniel W. Searfoss, 43, was charged in November with using a tiny lens in his shoe, attached to a video camera he carried in a bag, to photograph underneath women's skirts at a flea market in Brandon, Fla. He had just finished probation for a similar incident at a Wal-Mart last year, and after detectives scanned 45 videotapes from Searfoss' home, they charged him with another November incident at a Plant City church (perhaps the one in which he performed community service on the Wal-Mart charge). At a December court hearing, the prosecutor told the judge that Searfoss also had tried to point his shoe under the dresses of several women in the county probation office.

'It's our policy'

A barber from Scotland was flown at government expense to the Netherlands just to cut the hair of accused Pan Am Flight 103 bomber (and Scottish prisoner) Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in July because security policy prevents local civilians from doing it. And police in New Bedford, Mass., admitted in November that they had hurt their case by discarding a partial bomb allegedly made by the high school students recently charged with conspiring to blow up their school, because they wrongly thought that policy was to use as evidence only active bombs. And in September, two Pennsylvania state troopers got in trouble for receiving complete, $60 prostitution services while working undercover, even though policy prevents such sex acts "except in a lifesaving situation or where officers' lives are at stake," according to a state police official.

Compelling explanations

At his October murder trial in Hackensack, N.J., Agustin Garcia, 49, did not dispute that he shot his former girlfriend to death on her wedding day, but he said the jury ought to sympathize with him, in that he could not help himself: On the day that he learned of her wedding, it had been only three days since he had last had sex with her. A psychiatrist testified that this was "acute adjustment disorder," but that apparently did not faze the jury, which sentenced Garcia to 30 years in prison.

Rangers at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park just across the North Carolina line in Tennessee canceled a massive search they had scheduled on Oct. 19 when the missing man (Chien Nguyen, 47, a school custodian from Smithfield, N.C.) turned up in a homeless shelter in Knoxville. Nguyen said he had gone to the park, and then to the shelter, because he needed to get away from women, believing that his status as a Buddhist monk was being jeopardized by too much intergender contact. (Indeed, the Knoxville shelter was men-only.)

Edinburgh, Scotland, postal worker Graham Fletcher, 25, was sentenced in October to only community service, on a plea-bargained charge of hoarding two items he should have delivered (reduced from the original 696 items). He said things started to go bad when he decided to surprise his wife while she was attending a ladies-night-out but found her engaged in a sex act outside a bar, up against a Ford van. Stunned, Fletcher said he wandered around in a daze, sank into depression, and eventually started hoarding mail as a "cry for help."

Not my fault

Howard Strumph filed a lawsuit in September against the Voorhes, Pa., Police Department, claiming that they were responsible for his wife's death in 1999 because they failed to enter the family home quickly enough to save her. The reason the police were reluctant to enter was because Strumph had just shot Mrs. Strumph, along with a handyman the couple employed, and police thought they might be in a standoff with a homicidal man. (Strumph later showed he intended only to shoot the handyman, whom he saw attacking his wife, but he was unsteady when he fired from his wheelchair and accidentally hit his wife.)

Kane Rundle, 22, filed a lawsuit for $1 million against the New South Wales State Rail company in Australia, based on his severe injuries from a 1994 incident. Rundle is brain-damaged because he hit his head while leaning out of a moving train, spraying graffiti. Rundle's lawyers believe the company knew that some passengers were spraying graffiti out of train windows and thus should have done more to prevent them from doing it.

People with issues

In November, Philadelphia City Councilman Angel Ortiz was revealed to have been driving for the last 25 years without a license, including the last 17 years when he has been a municipal employee or council member. Said Ortiz, "I kept trying to make time to get a new license, and it seemed that something pressing always took precedence." A few days later, Ortiz was discovered also to have 53 outstanding parking tickets (face value, about $3,000), and as is often the case with public officials' misconduct, Ortiz made the story more interesting by denying that he knew about any of the tickets.

Recurring themes

Expensive single acts of sexual intercourse occasionally hit the newspapers when celebrities are involved (such as tennis star Boris Becker's recent out-of-court settlement paying a reported $2.5 million in child support for the product of a brief interlude with a model in a restaurant closet). In November, a court in Birmingham, England, ordered plumber John Walker, 25, to pay what amounts to nearly $100,000 for an episode in which a much older woman seduced him when he was 15. Though he never saw her again, she remembered him and now claims she needs help raising their child. After a positive DNA match, Walker must pay until the child turns 19 (or later, if the child stays in school).

News of the Weird reported in 2001 that Kepler College in Seattle had won state higher-education certification for a curriculum in astrology and that the U.S. Department of Education had decided that vocational astrology students could qualify for federal loans and grants. Recently, India's higher-education curriculum planners decided that colleges in that country could offer courses in astrology at the graduate, post-graduate and research levels, and about 25 programs have been established. Critics say the policy is an ill-conceived plan by Hindu nationalists to extend their influence, but a New Delhi astrologer applauded the move, pointing out that astrology "seek(s) wisdom which no other science provides."

Also, in the last month

A 53-year-old man was hospitalized after two of the four homemade bombs he was carrying around in case he got mugged exploded (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). A fired postal worker pleaded guilty to splattering former colleagues with a mixture of worms and porcupine feces in a vengeful return visit to the workplace (Grand Rapids, Mich.). A large woman was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after the 49-year-old man she was sitting on (attempting to persuade him to pay for the sex act he had allegedly purchased from her) died (Peoria, Ill.).

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