News of the Weird August 13 2008

LEAD STORY: The European Union allows fruits and vegetables to be sold only in prescribed sizes and colors (such as its 35 pages of regulations governing 250 varieties of the apple, or rules that cucumbers must be straight and bananas curved). In June, British marketer Tim Down complained that he was forced to discard 5,000 kiwi fruit because they were 1 millimeter in diameter too small and one-fourth ounce too light. (It is illegal even to give them away, as that would undermine the market price.) “Improvements” in the EU system continue, according to a July Washington Post dispatch from Brussels: Despite 10 pages of standards on the onion and 19 amendments, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture recently issued a report urging further refinements, using 29 pages and 43 photographs.

Great Art! Artist Michael Fernandes’ exhibit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June caused a commotion because it was merely a banana on a gallery’s window sill, and Fernandes had it priced at $2,500 (Cdn) (down from his original though, $15,000). Actually, Fernandes changed bananas every day (eating the old one), placing progressively greener ones out to demonstrate the banana’s transitoriness. “We humans are also temporal, but we live as if we are not,” he wrote. Despite the steep price, two collectors placed holds on the “work,” requiring the gallery’s co-owner, Victoria Page, to get assurance from callers. “It’s a banana; you understand that it’s a banana?”

Government in Action! In May, the school board in Barrie, Ontario, notified Children’s Aid Society to intervene with mother Colleen Leduc and her daughter Victoria, 11, because of suspected sexual abuse, angering the conscientious Leduc, who until that point had taken extraordinary measures to protect the girl, who is autistic. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the suspicion came from a teaching assistant who said her psychic had told her that a girl with a “V” in her name was being abused by a man aged 23 to 26. Leduc now refuses to trust Victoria to public schools because “they might want to take out a Ouija board or hold a seance.”

The June transfer of a prisoner from lockup to Britain’s Northampton Crown Court, just across the street, required summoning the closest prison van (57 miles away) to come give him a ride. The prisoner (accused thief Mark Bailey) could not simply be walked across the street because officials feared that public, custodial exposure (a “perp walk”) would embarrass him, in violation of his “human rights.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has a longstanding policy of not cooperating with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration laws, but in June that stance abruptly backfired, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. Illegal immigrants who are minors and who committed felonies such as drug-trafficking in San Francisco have not been bound over for federal deportation but have either been quietly flown home, with an escort, at city expense, or placed in California group homes. In June, when San Bernardino County officials realized that one of its youth group homes contained drug dealers, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom halted the program and promised the city would improve its relationship with immigration officials.

Police Blotter: Police, including SWAT officers, were called to an apartment in Mesa, Ariz., in June after neighbors reported a fight between a man and woman that included yelling and breaking things inside. When they arrived, they found only a 21-year-old man, conducting the fight by himself, alternating a high-pitched voice with a low-pitched one. He was referred for a medical exam.

Questionable Judgments: Teachers Out of Control: 1) Fifth-grade teacher Susan Romanyszyn, 45, was arrested in Bucks County, Pa., in January and charged with 17 counts of threatening bombings and gun violence after she was assigned to teach fourth grade, instead. 2) Sixth-grade teacher Roshondra Sipp of Jackson, Miss., aroused parents’ ire in May for forcing the class to vote on who among them would be most likely to die young or get pregnant while still in school or get HIV or go to jail. Then, Sipp posted the results, enraging parents of the little charmers who made the lists.

Creme de la Weird: “A person with a sneeze fetish can find erotic pleasure in those few seconds,” according to the ABC News Medical Unit, in an April report, when “the eyes close as the body prepares to forcefully expel air,” but “experts are stumped as to why.” An Internet “sneeze fetish forum” allows members to wax rhapsodic (“She has the cutest sneeze ever”) and recall pleasurable experiences (such as the thrill of discovering that one’s new college roommate has allergies and will be sneezing frequently), and many use language and suggest visions that mimic sexual behaviors.

Recurring Themes: Ronald McDade, charged with raping a teenager in Lansdale, Pa., in January, petitioned to be allowed to submit a plaster cast of his penis to the jury, to demonstrate that, since he is an “extremely large” man (according to his lawyer), he could not physically have penetrated the girl without causing genital injury (and no such injury was found). News of the Weird has reported previously on rape defendants offering to give the jury either a photograph, or a live exhibition, to make the same point.