News of the Weird October 01 2008
LEAD STORY: Italian and U.K. legal authorities have recently discarded rule interpretations based on embarrassingly anachronistic stereotypes of women. In July, Italy's Court of Cassation reversed a 1999 ruling creating a legal presumption that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be the victim of rape because such jeans would be impossible to remove without her assistance. Coincidentally, at about the same time, the British government formally removed the special, ameliorating defense of "provocation" for husbands charged with murdering their wives, thus putting domestic homicide on the same footing as other homicides. (Some husbands had received lesser penalties by claiming that their wives' affairs had provoked them to murder.)
Compelling Explanations: Jonathan Williams, 33, was convicted of cocaine possession in England's Guildford Crown Court in July, as jurors rejected his explanation that the pants he had on (containing the cocaine) were not his. That explanation also failed in August in Naples, Fla., for Richard Obdyke, 19, when police found a stolen debit card in his pants. (In both cases, the men said they had no idea whose pants they were wearing.) And in August in Corpus Christi, Texas, a 25-year-old man was arrested for drug possession during a traffic stop, despite his volunteering to police that "It's not my truck," and "If you find something searching it, it's not mine," and "If there's anything in that black bag, it's not mine."
Gill Switalski, 51, filed a lawsuit in London, seeking the equivalent of almost $40 million for her dismissal from the Foreign and Colonial investment firm, claiming she was fired illegally during an illness. However, F and C asserted in June that it found an instance during a particularly sickly spell for Switalski when she interviewed for a job at a competitor while demonstrating enough energy and drive to have received an offer of employment. Switalski said she was merely using an "alternative personality" during that interview.
In July, Leroy Mcafee, 55, was charged in Austin, Texas, with molesting an 11-year-old girl but confessed to police that he had molested two others, as well. He refused to describe those incidents, however, because he wanted to save that information for his autobiography.
What Goes Around Comes Around: According to police in Bethlehem, Pa., four kids (ages 9 to 14) grabbed a donation box in August at RiverPlace park (contributions to an organization that maintains the park's portable toilets) and ran for nearby woods, with several police officers in pursuit. Three boys were caught, but the other made it a little ways into the woods before falling into a manure pit built by homeless people at their encampment.
The Litigious Society: Kevin Hansen filed a lawsuit in West Bend, Wis., in August, claiming that spotting a clump of hair in a steak he sliced into from a Texas Roadhouse restaurant caused "severe and permanent injuries," pain, suffering and "disability," requiring "extensive medical treatment." In fact, said his lawyer Ryan Hetzel to Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel, "It's bothered the heck out of him." (The employee who prepared the steak was fired and later pleaded guilty to a felony, explaining that he was trying to retaliate because Hansen complained about a previous order.)
After failing the West Virginia Bar Exam for the second time (during which he was given an extra day to complete it), Shannon Kelly filed a lawsuit in July demanding even more concessions based on his unspecified cognitive disability. The second failure was also on a special version of the exam in large type, and Kelly had been permitted to work in a room by himself. He now believes he can earn his license if he is allowed four days instead of the normal two, to make up for (according to his lawyer) "severe deficits in processing speed, cognitive fluency and rapid naming" (though it is not clear how many attorney jobs are available for someone with such a skill set).
The Continuing Crisis: Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, a Muslim preacher in the western Nigerian state of Niger, told a BBC reporter in August that, although he personally has 86 wives (and 170 children), other men could not handle that many. "My own power is given by Allah," he said. "That is why I have been able to control 86 of them." The usual maximum for Muslims is four, but Bello Abubakar said the Quran does not specify punishment for violation. Besides, he said, "I don't go looking for women. They come to me" because of his reputation as a healer. (Two weeks later, Reuters reported that local clerics were pressuring Bello Abubakar to divorce 82 wives of his choice, but a spokesman for the preacher said he was resisting.)
Creme de la Weird: In July, Port St. Lucie, Fla., police stopped Timothy Placko in his car on a wooded road and discovered inside a blond wig, rope, binoculars, a small machete, knives, gloves, two bullet casings and a film canister that contained 18 human teeth. Also on the seat was a stack of women's sonograms that Placko said he had downloaded from the Internet. He originally told police that he had pulled off the road to call (improbably) a "girlfriend," but then admitted he was not calling anyone. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
No Longer Weird: Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (90) People who seem to lose all respect for the danger of walking on railroad tracks when they listen to music on a headset or talk on cell phones (such as the two people hit by trains three weeks apart in April and May on the same rail line in suburbs of Seattle).
© 2008 CHUCK SHEPHERD