News of the Weird February 25 2009

LEAD STORY: Poetry on the Rise: 1) Twelve local poets jumped into the frigid Green Lake in Seattle in December, just because they thought it would be a good way to publicize their art. “It’s not enough to write,” said one. “You need that audience.” 2) The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Antonio Batista in November, declaring that his “death threat” against a Mississauga City Council member, in the form of a sonnet on long-neglected potholes, was more likely literary expression. 3) Jose Gouveia, 45, recently published Rubber Side Down, a book of poems by bikers about the open road (including 17-syllable “baiku”), some from the educationally upscale Highway Poets Motor Cycle Club of Cambridge, Mass.

Can’t Possibly Be True: An Oregon district attorney’s office set out two years ago to prosecute David Simmons for having sex the year before with his girlfriend, then 14, while he was 17. A grand jury in Jefferson County refused to indict Simmons, but the prosecutor acted exactly like the indictment had gone through, and no one, even Simmons, noticed the mistake. Only when Simmons agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 30-day sentence in October 2006 did the news finally reach the foreman of the grand jury that had “no-billed” Simmons, and the foreman’s complaint caused the judge to dismiss the conviction. In December 2008, however, prosecutors in neighboring Lane County charged Simmons anew for that 2005 tryst, claiming that double jeopardy does not apply because the Jefferson County case never legally happened (in that Simmons was never really indicted).

Inexplicable: Police in New Britain, Conn., arrested Joel Rubin, 42, in January and charged him with using a stolen credit card, but unanswered was why Rubin also tried to use his own store discount card to get a lower price on the merchandise. It was Rubin’s name on the discount card that tipped off police, and it was not immediately clear why Rubin wanted to save a few bucks off a bill that would be sent to someone else.

Secondary-Level Questions: 1) In December, Pauline McCook of Britain’s Isle of Sheppey reported the theft from her front yard of her life-sized glass statue of mobster Al Capone. It was not reported why McCook would have such a statue in the first place. 2) In Plant City, Fla., in December, Robert Thompson and Taurus Morris were charged with armed burglary after taking a woman’s eggbeater from her at knifepoint. It was not reported why they wanted the eggbeater or why the victim had to be threatened at knifepoint to get it.

Unclear on the Concept: In November, some African-American leaders in Danville, Ill., complained when eight black players were cut from the Danville High School basketball team at once, charging that the coach was engaging in “racial profiling” by, in the words of a black pastor, taking “a look at the way the young men wore their hair.” The coach pointed out that though all the dismissed players are black, so are all eight retained players, and that two of the retained players wore the same style braids to which the pastor was referring.

The December student rioting in Athens, Greece (triggered by a police officer’s shooting of an unarmed 15-year-old boy), was so intensive that the police department quickly ran through its arsenal of tear gas and was forced to use supplies that were 25 years old. One demonstrator told a Times of London reporter that it was unfair for police to use canisters that old because they contained dangerous chemicals that caused rioters to get “sick” and to “have trouble breathing.”

It’s Supposed to Be the Other Way Around: On the South Boulder (Colo.) Creek Trail in January, as a woman was standing beside her bicycle, a cow wandered by and tipped her over (and then stepped on her legs before meandering off).

People With Issues: “I take my baby to the park ... maybe put it in its stroller, or put it in its sling, or hold it in a blanket,” the 49-year-old “mother” told ABC News reporters in January, lovingly describing her play-like infant. She is of the “reborn” community of women whose maternal instinct leads them to mother fake babies as they would real ones (which they choose not to have, or cannot have). Reborn dolls are exquisitely manufactured, selling for $500 and up, and require real baby clothes rather than doll suits. In addition to the obvious benefits (no diapers, no college fund), reborns will always be infants and never bratty adolescents. A psychiatrist told the reporters that she would not be surprised to find that the “mother” of a reborn would “have the same chemical, hormonal reactions as if she was holding a real baby.”

Least Competent Person: Daniel Petric, 15 at the time, shot his parents in October 2007 (killing his mother) after they took away his violent Halo 3 video game. In January 2009, Judge James Burge pronounced Petric guilty of murder, rejecting his lawyers’ claim that Petric was insane at the time because he had confused “killing” cartoon avatars with killing humans. Even though the legal test of insanity was not met, however, Burge acknowledged that Petric “had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents, they would be dead forever.”

Recurring Themes: More People Disrespecting Railroad Tracks: 1) Toronto police officers investigating a robbery at the Beer Store in January parked their cruiser to investigate but admitted later (after a train had crushed it) that it was probably “a little bit on the tracks.” 2) A 68-year-old driver got stuck on tracks in Anaheim, Calif., in December, and when panic set in at the sight of an oncoming train, she unfortunately decided to call 911 on her cell phone, rather than exit the car. 3) Matthew Randall, 40, had a happier ending in Ashland, Mass., in October after he drove onto the rails and was seen “barreling down the tracks” toward a train. CSX engineers were able to slow down before the collision, which knocked the car onto a side road, and Randall actually drove it home (and was later arrested for leaving the scene, trespassing on railroad tracks, and of course DUI).