Monday, September 8, 2008

Weird News

Use the Force, Luke
Meet Yoda, a household pet born with an extra pair of ears. Chicago, Illinois, couple Valerie and Ted Rock took the cat in two years ago after they visited a local bar, where a group of drinkers were handing the animal around and making fun of him. Since being adopted by the Rocks and after getting his picture posted on the Internet, the two-year-old feline has become an international media celebrity. The Rocks have received calls from Good Morning America, Fox News and The Tyra Banks Show.

Always Thicker Than H20
It has inspired more than 1,000 movies and after the Bible it's the biggest selling book of all time. But Bram Stoker's gothic novel Dracula may owe more of its inspiration to Ireland than to Transylvania. There are claims that Count Dracula was really a bloodsucking Irish landlord who preyed on his19th century tenants and the undead and the gaunt haunted figures that fill the pages of Stoker's famous book were straight out of Ireland's Great Famine, according to the director of the Bram Stoker's Dracula Organisation. Dennis McIntyre says that very few people know that Stoker was in fact an Irishman. First published in1897, the took has never been out of print and has been translated into over 50 different languages. But while the story of Dracula is known by every generation throughout the world, many moviegoers and readers are unaware of its origins. It's widely believed that Bram Stoker's Dracula tells the story of the 15th century bloodthirsty Romanian Prince Vlad Dracula III, better known as Vlad the Impaler. The Transylvanian prince earned this name because of his reputation for impaling his enemies and watching them slowly and painfully die. But according to Dennis McIntyre there the similarities end, and with the exception of the setting the story is a very Irish one. Stoker's Dracula is also full of Irish symbols - storms, fog, rats, gypsies, castle, abbey, etc. He points out that the name Dracula comes from the Irish word "Droch Ola", which means "bad blood". Stoker's mother was from the West of Ireland and she told Bram about a cholera epidemic in 1832 when she witness large graves and people being pushed into them with wooden poles while they were still alive. If you committed suicide in Stoker's time it was actually believed that you became a vampire unless you got the stake through the heart treatment, he added. There was a suicide burial plot in Clontarf, Dublin, where Stoker lived. As a boy the author used to spend hours playing in that graveyard and St. Michan's Church, where the Stoker family had a burial vault. "By some atmospheric freak in this church bodies are preserved by a natural mummification or they were in the past," said McIntyre. Bram Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. This was one of the most catastrophic events in Irish history, with hundreds of thousands of people dying from starvation and disease or emigrating in 'coffin ships' to America. The famine may have inspired the visual characteristics of Count Dracula and also his infamous obsession with bloodsucking, McIntyre believes. "So metaphorically speaking we think that Count Dracula might be the landlord up at the big castle sucking the blood of the peasants." [AP, 8-13-08]

It's a Dog's Life
This one takes the biscuit, and it could only happen in India, the land of the Kama Sutra. It took place for real during a traditional Hindu ceremony at a temple in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The groom in question was a 33-year-old Indian farmer named Selvakumar, and he was wed to a female dog named Selvi to atone for stoning two other dogs to death and stringing them up in a tree 15 years ago. After he stoned the dogs he said his legs and hands got paralysed, he lost hearing in one ear, and his speech was impaired. With doctors unable to help him, Selvakumar turned to an astrologer who told him he was cursed by the spirits of the dogs he had killed. He could undo the curse only if he married a dog and live with it, the soothsayer warned. Family members chose a stray female dog who was then bathed and clothed for the wedding occasion. Selvi the bride was brought to the temple by village women and a Hindu priest conducted the ceremony. Deeply superstitious people in rural India sometimes organize weddings to dogs and other animals, believing it can beat certain curses. [Hindustan Times, 8-31-08]

The Continuing Crisis
As Denton, Texas, Pizza Patron employee Stephanie Martinez complied with a disguised robber's demand for money at closing in July, a co-worker jumped the man, knocked him down, and began beating on him. As the robber's sunglasses and wig fell off, Martinez recognized him: "Don't hit him again! That's my dad!" Police later charged Stephanie's father, mother and husband with the attempted robbery, concluding that Stephanie had been kept completely in the dark about the heist. [Dallas Morning News-Denton Record Chronicle, 7-15-08]

Made for "Law and Order": David Steffen was convicted in Cincinnati in 1983 of murdering a 19-year-old woman and sentenced to death because the jury found that he also raped her, a violation that was an added devastation to her parents. Steffen confessed to the killing but vehemently protested for almost a quarter century that he did not rape her, and, finally, a 2007 DNA test of semen backed him up, disturbing the family even more (and calling Steffen's death sentence into question). In July 2008, the prosecutor learned that the DNA belonged to 55-year-old Kenneth Douglas, who is not a suspect in the murder but who was a morgue assistant in 1982 when the woman's body arrived and, said the prosecutor, had sex with it. Though the statute of limitations likely prevents prosecuting Douglas, the woman's parents seemed somewhat comforted that, after all, their daughter was a virgin. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 8-13-08]

Among the losers in the recent housing crash was The Shire in Bend, Ore., which was to be a village of 31 homes in the style of those in the "Lord of the Rings" series, with (according to a report in the Bend Bulletin) "unique stonework, artificial thatched roofs, terraces, gardens, and a network of streams and ponds with a pathway to ... 'The Ring Bearer's Court.'" One of the only two houses completed has a "hobbit hole" for storing garden supplies. Developer Ron Meyers said he hopes the new owner will respect the concept. [Bend Bulletin, 7-31-08]

Nevada Political Babylon: Greg Nance, 49, resigned from the state Board of Education in August after complaints about his ignoring a policy discussion at a public meeting by cooing with his new, 20-year-old wife of 12 days. (When a colleague complained that the woman should not have been seated with Nance at the board table, Nance replied, "Bite me.") Nance's replacement will be named by Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose approval rating hovers in the 20 percent range, in part because of rumors of womanizing. Gibbons filed for divorce in May, but his wife of 22 years has refused to leave the governor's mansion, and, instead, Gibbons has moved out. [Las Vegas Sun, 8-11-08] [New York Times, 5-30-08]

Family Values
Former British glamour model Jayne Bennington, 31, says she spends the equivalent of $600 a month on treatments and frills to make her daughter Sasha, 11, into the beauty queen she almost was herself, according to a July profile in London's Daily Mail. However, Mom has done such a good job that Sasha can't get work because she no longer looks like a child. Asked her self-assessment by a BBC documentary crew, Sasha responded, "Blond, pretty, dumb (but) I don't need brains." (At that, Mom roared with laughter.) [Daily Mail (London), 7-5-08]

Blood Is Thicker: In Bihar state, India, a man was charged with having his father killed a day before retirement so that the son might "inherit" his government job via the traditional family-hardship policy. (If Dad had retired, the regular hiring process would have been used to find a replacement.) [Reuters, 6-3-08]

Crime Pays
Kenneth Moore, 49, admitted that he was the one who shot his friend Darrel Benner to death in 1995 during a beer-drinking binge, in front of two witnesses, in Piketon, Ohio, but an appeals court later ruled that he was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had withheld evidence. At a new trial, with memories failing, Moore was found not guilty. State law thus calls Moore's nine-plus years served "wrongful imprisonment," entitling him to compensation, and in July the Ohio Court of Claims approved a payment of more than $500,000 (plus legal fees) for Moore's having pulled the trigger that night. [Columbus Dispatch, 7-29-08, 1-17-08]

Unclear on the Concept
Landlord Richard Ott, 30, was arrested in Newark, Del., in August after he finally snapped in anger at his tenants, who were behind in their rent. According to police, Ott hopped into his Hummer in the middle of the night and crashed into the "tenants'" front door. [News Journal (Wilmington), 8-2-08]

In July, a guest at the Delta Beausejour hotel in Moncton, New Brunswick, had a morning court date that he had been stalling on for a while and as the clock ticked down, he decided to beg off once again and asked the hotel's concierge to go deal with the judge. (The judge told the concierge to inform his "client" that he had just been found guilty on all counts.) [Moncton Times & Transcript, 7-12-08]

Chutzpah! Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary has been facing charges since April from the state Judicial Conduct Board based on a 2007 political appearance. At a meeting of motorcyclists, Singletary was captured on video begging for campaign donations by asking, "You're all going to need me in Traffic Court, am I right about that?" [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4-24-08]

Least Competent Criminals
Spectacular Failures of Prison Rehab: (1) Michael Ogle, 29, was arrested for allegedly robbing the BBT Bank in Seymour, Tenn., in August, right after his release from jail for robbing the same bank last November. (2) Timothy Wallace, 38, was arrested after allegedly robbing the Superior Bank in Elkmont, Ala., in July, after his release from prison, where he had served a 12-year sentence for robbing the same bank in 1995. [Daily Times (Maryville, Tenn.), 8-6-08] [WVTM-TV (Birmingham)-AP, 7-29-08]

Recurring Themes
Insurance companies, especially in Europe, seem game for underwriting almost any odd risk anyone is willing to pay for, and thus News of the Weird has reported on people insured against alien invasion, the Loch Ness monster, and, for three Scottish nuns, the expense of Jesus Christ's second coming if he were born to any of them. The bedding company SilentNight in Lancashire, England, recently insured mattress-tester Graham Butterfield's buttocks for the equivalent of about $2 million, finding that particular part of his body to be so sensitive to tiny variations in fillings that he knows, quickly and certainly, if the proper materials have been used. [BBC News, 7-22-08]

The Aristocrats!
In three instances reported in August, American kids were found living in such filthy squalor and isolation that authorities feared they were nearly as developmentally stunted as feral children raised in the wilderness. A 36-year-old man in Lavonia, Ga., was arrested for having imprisoned his wife and three never-schooled children inside their small trailer home for at least the last three years. And in Burke County, Ga., a woman and 11 never-schooled children were found in a filthy trailer home without electricity or running water. And in Polk County, Mo., six children were found among three families living in a clump of 12 isolated, junk-packed trailer homes with 360 animals and the only water coming from a series of connected garden hoses. [AP, 8-12-08] [Augusta Chronicle, 8-2-08]


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