News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*According to a January report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the percentage of gay men who engage in risky sex without condoms ("barebacking") is growing, and a tiny minority of those men have taken their passion a step further, in the form of Russian roulette parties that are now publicized on the Internet (the latest scheduled for February in Houston). During the game HIV-negative men ("bug chasers") invite HIV-positive men ("givers of the gift") for anonymous sex so that every act carries the possibility of death. A gay writer told the Chronicle that he has spoken to participants and is certain the parties are not just part of an Internet hoax.

First Things First
*In December University of Nevada, Las Vegas, president Carol Harter moved the offices of most of the school's English composition teachers out of the campus's historic Houssels House and into a group of double-wide trailers in order to make room for a new Consciousness Studies Program, which investigates near-death experiences and other new-age topics. That program was created with a large donation from a prominent real estate developer.

*In January Fort Worth, Texas, murder defendant Robert William Greer, Jr., agreed to plead guilty to a 1988 killing if the judge would keep him in the local jail for two more weeks before sending him to the penitentiary so he could be assured of seeing the Super Bowl on TV. (Greer thought TV privileges in prison were less certain.) Greer said much of his enthusiasm for the game would be to see his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, win it all. Two days later the Atlanta Falcons beat the Vikings, denying them a Super Bowl appearance, but Greer's guilty plea stands.

News from the Animal Community
*The New York Times reported in November on the recent but growing competitive sport of "musical canine freestyle" (choreographed dancing with dogs), in which costumed owners and their matching-collared pooches move to tunes such as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Get Happy." (Holding the dogs' paws, as in at-home dog-dancing, is forbidden.) The World Canine Freestyle Organization has a mailing list of 8000 aficionados.

*The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in October that LuLu, a Vietnamese potbellied pig, saved the life of her owner, Jo Ann Altsman of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, by alerting a passing driver that Altsman was in trouble. Altsman was groaning in pain during a heart attack and said later that LuLu first whimpered in sympathy, then squeezed through a very small doggy door, pushed open a gate she had never opened before, walked to the road, and according to a witness, lay down in the middle only when a car approached. The driver stopped and then heard Altsman's cries.

The Litigious Society
*In August the family of the late Russell U. Shell filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against The Other Side nightclub in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, charging that Mr. Shell choked to death on a miniature plastic penis that had allegedly been placed into his drink glass as a prank by an employee. The club owner said Mr. Shell merely suffered a seizure and that the charm was found on the floor beside Mr. Shell's body.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd