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News of the Weird 12/22/11

by Chuck Shepherd

When Tattoos Aren’t Nearly Enough In some primitive cultures, beauty and status are displayed via large holes in the earlobe from which to hang heavy ornaments or to insert jewels or tokens, and BBC News reported in November that an “increasing” number of counterculture Westerners are getting their lobes opened far beyond routine piercing, usually by gradually stretching but sometimes with a hole-punch tool for immediate results. The hard core are “gauge kings (or queens),” showing a “commitment” to the lifestyle by making holes up to 10 mm (three-eighths inch) wide. (Cosmetic surgeons told BBC News in November that they’re already preparing procedures for the inevitable wave of regretted decisions.)

Recurring Themes Larry Walters made history in 1982 with perhaps the most famous balloon ride of all time—in an ordinary lawn chair, lifted by 45 helium-filled weather balloons—soaring to over 16,000 feet in Southern California before descending by shooting the balloons one by one. In 2008, gas station manager Kent Couch of Bend, Ore., made a similar lawn-chair flight and had scheduled another, for November 2011, to float over now-allegedly peaceful Baghdad, to raise money for Iraqi orphans. (Couch subsequently postponed his flight until March 2012 to give the charities more time to organize.)

• Corruption in some Latin American prisons has allowed powerful criminals to buy extraordinary privileges behind bars. News of the Weird’s report on Venezuela’s San Antonio prison in July described the imperial reign of one drug lord-inmate, who presided over a personal armory, a local-community drug market and private parties (and with his own DirecTV account). In a surprise raid in November on a prison in Acapulco, Mexico, the usual drugs and weapons turned up, but also 100 fighting roosters for daily gambling, along with a prisoner’s two pet peacocks.

• The lives of many choking victims have been saved by the Heimlich Maneuver—even one received inadvertently, such as the one a Leesburg, Fla., motorist gave himself in 2001, after gagging on a hamburger, then losing control and smashing into a utility pole. As he was thrust against the steering wheel, the burger dislodged. In November 2011, as the mother of 8-year-old Laci Davis drove her to a Cincinnati hospital after a locket stuck in her throat and caused her to double over in pain, Mom hit a pothole, which jarred Laci and dislodged the locket loose into her stomach (later to come out naturally).

• It seemed a rare event (first reported in 1994 but initially regarded as an “urban legend”). However, twice now recently, workers have played a particularly dangerous prank on a colleague. A month after the recent News of the Weird story about Gareth Durrant’s lawsuit in England against co-workers who had inserted a compressed-air hose into his rectum, a carpenter’s assistant in Nicosia, Cyprus, was jailed for 45 days for pulling the same stunt on his colleague, rupturing his large intestine.

• Sometimes professionals who overbill for their hours go too far, claiming obviously impossible schedules, such as lawyers News of the Weird reported on in 1992 and 1994 (one, a Raleigh, N.C., lawyer, submitted one client bills averaging nearly 1,200 hours a month—even though a month only has 744 hours). New York City officials said in October 2011, however, that it’s quite possible that city prison psychiatrist Dr. Quazi Rahman actually did work 141 hours one week, including 96 straight (because of a shortage of staff and because he could properly nap during his shifts). They ordered him to return only a tiny amount of his $500,000 in overtime payments for the last year.