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News of the Weird 

Mate-swapping swingers, spitting-contest deaths and more

Lead Story: Australian Jeffrey Lee is the last surviving member of the clan that controls the Koongarra uranium deposit near Kakadu National Park (east of Darwin), and federal law requires his permission for the French energy company Areva to extract the estimated 14,000 tons, perhaps worth the equivalent of $4.2 billion (U.S.), but Lee vouches never to sell because "if you disturb that land, bad things will happen." "This is my country," he told the Sydney Morning Herald in July. "I'm not interested in money. I've got a job. ... I can go fishing and hunting. That's all that matters to me."

The Continuing Crisis: Widower Charlie Bonn Kemp, 77, of Vero Beach, Fla., took especially hard the loss of his wife Lee in 2006, because she was unquestionably the love of his life, even though the couple stopped having sex even before they got married in 1978, according to a June St. Petersburg Times profile. Lee had been Charlie's gay lover for 26 years, until revealing in 1978 that he could no longer resist the urge to become a woman, and especially a housewife. Such was their attachment that, following Lee's full sex change, she and Charlie decided to take advantage of Lee's new status and legally marry and continue their devotion, even though Charlie remained sexually attracted only to men.

Kenya, in addition to the usual problems of a developing African nation (poverty, tribal frictions), has recently endured the rise in power of the Mungiki, which is a secret society that is (according to a June New York Times dispatch) "part Sicilian Mafia, part Chicago street gang, with a little of the occult sprinkled in." Police say the members aim to destabilize the country in the midst of the current political campaign by devil-worshipping acts of violence (skinning heads, drinking human blood from jerricans). A district commissioner in Nairobi said the Mungiki had threatened her with genital mutilation. The gang originated in the 1990s much as organized crime in the United States did, by taking over such urban enterprises as bus transit and garbage collection.

Latest in Brain Science: 1) French neurologists writing recently in the journal the Lancet described their surprise in finding, via brain scans, that a normally functioning 44-year-old man had a brain "more than 50 percent to 75 percent" smaller than average, consisting of little more than a thin sheet of brain material surrounding a large fluid buildup. (The man is employed as a French government bureaucrat.) 2) Researchers at the University of Calgary said in July that female mice in their study were not only sexually aroused by whiffs of male mouse pheromones but that the scent apparently made the females' brains grow larger.

Northbrook, Ill., husband Arthur Friedman persuaded his wife that after 10 years' marriage, they should become mate-swapping swingers, which he thought would enhance their relationship. His wife, reluctant at first, began to participate and eventually fell in love with another swinging husband, an event that precipitated the Friedmans' breakup, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. Friedman, with an inadequate appreciation of irony, sued the husband under Illinois' alienation-of-affection law, and in June, a jury actually found in his favor, for $4,802.87. However, the soon-to-be-divorced Mrs. Friedman said she felt humiliated by the implication that she had been "worth" just $480 a year.

Oops! A toddler broke from his mother's supervision in May at the Rhime Buddhist Center in Kansas City, Mo., and accidentally trampled the meticulously created colored-sand picture that eight monks had to that point spent two days creating, but the monks impressively responded with patience. "No problem," said one, from India's Geshe Lobsang Sumdup monastery. We have three days more [before the show closes]. So we will have to work harder."

Yikes! Officials at the Masters games in Milan, Italy, in July announced in advance that, since the invited athletes ranged in age from 35 to the 90s, the javelin competition would be moved to a site far away from most of the other events.

Thinning the Herd: 1) A burglar was killed trying to sneak into the Maranatha Used Clothing store in Miami May 31; police said the man had crawled between the blades of a large, idle ventilation fan but that before getting all the way through, he accidentally tripped the "on" switch. 2) In Forst, Germany, in May, as a 43-year-old man and a 12-year-old boy vied in a spitting-for-distance contest from a second-story balcony, the grown-up, trying for extra momentum, thrust himself forcefully up to the railing, launched his saliva and accidentally fell to his death.

© 2007 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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