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News of the Weird

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Top gun: In October, West Point, Ky., hosted 12,000 visitors for the Knob Creek Gun Range Machine Gun Shoot, billed as the nation's largest, with a separate competition for flame-throwers. Especially coveted is "The Line," where 60 people (the waiting list is 10 years long to be admitted) get to fire their machine guns into a field of cars and boats, and during which a shooter might run through $10,000 in ammunition. Among the champions: Samantha Sawyer, 16, the top women's submachine gunner for the last four years. One man interviewed by the Louisville Courier-Journal said he met his wife at a previous Shoot, knowing that "if she could accept flame-throwing as a hobby, she could accept anything." Said another: "This is one of those times when you know [the U.S.] is the greatest place on Earth."

Airheads: In October, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's inspector general released questions from the final exam for airport screeners, designed to measure the crucial, intensive training the screeners had just completed. One question: "How do threats get on board an aircraft?" The supposedly challenging answers: "A) In carry-on bags; B) In checked-in bags; C) In another person's bag; D) All of the above." The inspector general also complained that 22 of the exam's 25 questions were repeats from previous tests, and that some test-takers were briefed in advance.

Fetishes on parade: Police officer James Marriner, 43, appeared at a hearing in Brisbane, Australia, in September on 15 counts related to sexual harassment of members of the Bible-based community he lived in near Ipswich, Queensland. Among the accusations: Marriner had requested nude photos, confidential sexual histories and pubic-hair samples from well-meaning community members who had conscientiously agreed to help the local police crack a "pedophile ring" (which apparently existed only in Marriner's mind). Reportedly, being a police officer in such a sheltered community was a high-status job that gave him unusual powers of persuasion.

Least competent criminals: For a September story in the Daily Nebraskan, University of Nebraska junior Dustin Rewinkel proudly and patiently explained to a reporter the secrets of his success in stealing street signs in the city of Lincoln (bragging that with basic tools, he could grab a sign in minutes and in fact had "more than a dozen" already). Not surprisingly, Lincoln police read the article, got a search warrant for Rewinkel's apartment, recovered 13 signs and charged him on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

Well-endowed defense: In Easton, Pa., in July, Robert M. Peters Sr., 47, became the latest man to be acquitted of indecent exposure by persuading a jury that his penis is too small to have been seen by the complaining witness. A woman testified that she had seen "3 inches" of erect penis beyond the bottom of his shorts while he was working in her home, but via photographs and a brief trouser-dropping in the courtroom, Peters convinced the jury that he is very modestly endowed and that she must have seen something else, such as a fold of fat on his 312-pound body.

Great art: Two hunters on a remote mountain in northern Sweden in October came across an installation of 70 pairs of shoes filled with butter, according to an Associated Press report. Artist Yu Xiuzhen was attributed as the probable creator, in that he had staged a similar display in the Tibetan mountains surrounding Lhasa, China, in 1996. (A non-art-appreciating official in Sweden was more concerned about getting the shoes down before the butter rotted.)

Bodily plumbing in the news: In April, according to Uganda's prison service, 15 inmates escaped near Kampala after allegedly having weakened the jail's walls and cell bars by months of urinating on them. ... Also in April, the New York Times reported that a pest-control professional in Stockton, Calif., had developed a new termite-detection method that relies on locating concentrations of methane gas that are expelled because of termites' high-fiber diet. ... And in October, a tipsy undersecretary in the Philippine government apologized after inadvertently urinating in the rear of President Arroyo's plane during flight, in an area he mistook for a restroom.

2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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