News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*Recently dismissed San Jose, California, police officer Johnny Venson, Jr., age 48, in jail facing fourteen counts of on-duty burglary, was awarded a $27,000 annual pension in November by the city's retirement board. The board agreed with Venson that he had a disability: an addiction to gambling, which prosecutors say led him to his life of crime as he got deeper in debt. Said one member about the board's decision, "I'm sure we'll get a lot of flak."

*In November a jury in Westminster, California, convicted 61-year-old California State University at Long Beach professor Elena Zagustin of 69 residential health and safety violations. Her trash-filled suburban home has no running water and numerous buckets in place of a toilet. Neighbors of the civil engineering professor have complained for years about the smell, the rodents, and the insects. In January officials declared her house unfit for occupancy.

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands
*Author-athlete Sri Chinmoy sponsored an endurance race for runners in New York City this summer, won by Istvan Sipos of Hungary, who finished the 3100-mile course in 47 days (6 a.m.-midnight). Four other runners competed on the concrete grounds of a Queens school, circling the facility about 115 times every day (prizes: a trophy and a photo album). Said one runner, "To me what the race is all about is the blossoming of the human spirit," but according to the wife of another competitor, the runners are "nuts."

Grow Up to Be a What?
*An October Associated Press dispatch profiled high school junior Bradley Arnold at his new part-time job at the Bill Head Funeral Home & Crematory in Duluth, Georgia. He said he's had his eyes set on being a funeral director since he was six, ever since he rode in a hearse at an uncle's funeral. He greets mourners, cleans the embalming room, and dresses the dead. Said his boss, Bill Head, "That boy just eats, sleeps, and breathes funeral service."

The Litigious Society
* After Laurence Peters of Long Beach, California, settled for $120,000 a lawsuit leveled by a former girlfriend (she alleged that he knowingly gave her herpes), Peters filed a claim against Firemen's Insurance Company, arguing that the sex was a hazard, like springing a leak, that had occurred on his insured boat. Firemen's rejected the claim, as did a judge and, in October, an appeals court.

*In February the English owner of the two-football-fields-long freighter Oceanus agreed to pay about $2 million to the 700 natives of Satawal, an isolated Pacific island, for damage done to a valuable coral reef when its skipper tried to maneuver out of the ship channel to get a better look at the island's topless women.

*In 1994 News of the Weird reported on a new therapy -- rapid eye movement, triggered by a therapist wagging a finger in the patient's face, like an officious schoolteacher, which supposedly relieves traumatic memories by "unclogging" brain patterns. According to a September 1998 Boston Globe report, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a growing field. EMDR founder Dr. Francine Shapiro says there are now 25,000 practitioners, who have served two million patients with an 80 percent success rate. The huge Kaiser Permanente California medical center now offers EMDR. But, as in 1994, mainstream psychotherapists still don't believe these therapies have any psychological value.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd