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The Odd Truth, Aug. 17, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Not-So-Lean Eating Machine

NEW YORK - Training is serious business for Ed "Cookie" Jarvis. He needs to get in shape to eat -- and eat and eat. According to the International Federation of Competitive Eating he's the world's pizza, ice cream and french-fry eating champ.

His records include consuming a 17-inch pizza in just three minutes. It shouldn't be too surprising the six-six real estate agent weighs 420 pounds. But he tells the Wall Street Journal he wants to drop 140 pounds by next July 4, for the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island, New York.

He says he'll be able to eat more if he weighs less. Part of Jarvis' training routine includes eating a head of boiled cabbage every day, in the weeks before an eating contest. (AP)

Historical Oversight

DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. - To mark the 225th anniversary of the Revolutionary War, one Pennsylvania town decided to celebrate its heritage with a re-enactment of its hard-fought skirmish against the invading British.

Trouble is, it didn't happen.

Nor was there any record of a British loyalist being captured, tried or sentenced to death. But that, too, was to be shown for Saturday's celebration, dubbed "Milltown - Washington's First Line of Defense."

Roger Grigson, president of the Downingtown Area Historical Society, has searched for any record of military activity in Downingtown, formerly Milltown, during the climactic Revolutionary War years of 1777 and 1778. Grigson's conclusion: "There wasn't."

Other communities in the area are busily observing key Revolutionary War events from the fall of 1777 that left George Washington and the Continental Army struggling to survive their winter encampment at Valley Forge.

"We have all these other 225th anniversary celebrations going on around here," Grigson said. "The Battle of Brandywine was Sept. 11. They are having a very, very large re-enactment. The Paoli Massacre was Sept. 21. They are having a big re-enactment."

But little went on that autumn in Milltown, where a heavily Quaker community, numbering around 100, operated mills, limekilns and inns for stagecoaches traveling between Philadelphia to Lancaster. Among the residents was Thomas Downing, the man Downingtown was named after.

The only military presence was a unit of Continental soldiers who passed through after the Paoli Massacre and a surgeon who operated on some of the wounded at The Ship Inn in Downingtown, Grigson said.

But Jane Davidson, historic preservation officer for Chester County and author of a history of Downingtown, said the town did have a supply depot for the war effort where locals stored up 900 barrels of flour, 26 hogsheads of liquor, and supplies of pork, bass, soap and candles.

They also disagree on whether Washington, fearing a British attack from the west, ordered the militia to the town on Aug. 23.

Grigson said the British never arrived. Davidson said they did.

Either way, "Milltown - Washington's First Line of Defense," is being billed as a living history of the Revolutionary War era, rather than of any particular event.

The event will include demonstrations of traditional day-to-day activities like wool spinning, paper-making and gun-smithing, as well as portrayals of colonial tavern life. Then there is the mock skirmish, capture and trial, and another event, "General George Washington to address the troops," that Grigson said is also fictitious, since Washington was never in Downingtown at the time.

Washington did not visit until years later as president, he said.

No historical inaccuracy is intended, Davidson said. "It's an observation of 18th century Colonial living, because Downingtown - Milltown - was a colonial village halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster," she said.

Grigson refused to take part in preparations for the re-enactment after he saw how things were shaping up at the first planning meeting. But he said the historical society will have a booth and sell calendars at the event to help raise $2 million to restore the Ashbridge House, built by Thomas Downing before 1709 as a wedding present for his daughter.

"I'm certainly not a perfectionist," Grigson said. "I don't really need half of Downingtown mad at me." (AP)

The Naked Belly Button

TORONTO - A Canadian judge who once ejected a female lawyer for showing too much cleavage has hit the headlines again after she ordered an accused shoplifter out of the courtroom for wearing a belly-button revealing top.

Ontario Justice Micheline Rawlins told the teenager to go and change and scolded the youth's lawyer for his client's appearance, the Chatham Daily News said.

"Frankly, your honor, I didn't notice," lawyer David Jacklin replied, before leaving to "check to make sure my other clients are appropriately dressed."

Newspapers quoted Rawlins as saying that since the teenager did not have to stare at the judge's midriff, the court should not have to eye hers either.

In March, Rawlins refused to hear arguments from lawyer Laura Joy because she wore a tight V-necked shirt under a pantsuit. The judge deemed the outfit too revealing for a courtroom and told her to return dressed more conservatively.

"I don't want to see bra straps. I don't want to see cleavage. I don't want to see belly buttons. I don't want to see stocking tops ... in a court of law," Rawlins, a judge in Chatham, Ontario, said at the time. (Reuters)

Satire Ire

AMMAN - A Jordanian newspaper boss and editor have been arrested for publishing a cartoon portraying Qatari ruler Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani as a belly dancer, officials and judicial sources said Thursday.

Al-Shahed group media publisher Sakhr Abu Anaza and the editor of the weekly satirical al-Jazeera, Mamoun Rousan, were detained on the orders of State Security Prosecutor Colonel Mahmoud Obeidat, judicial sources said.

They are charged with offending a head of an Arab state and publishing material interpreted as causing harm to bilateral ties, state news agency Petra quoted Minister of Information Mohammad al-Adwan as saying.

"What was published is deemed a clear breach of the ethics of journalism ... and it is something we reject and would not allow toward a friend or a brother," Adwan added.

The cartoon shows the emir and his foreign minister singing and dancing in a nightclub.

Both pro-government dailies and independent weekly tabloids have launched a tirade against Qatar after Doha-based Arabic satellite station al-Jazeera aired a program last week seen as an affront to the Hashemite ruling family. (Reuters)

Office On The Edge

LONDON - Half of Britain's stressed-out office workers say they have come close to punching a colleague, according to a survey published Wednesday.
Overwork, faulty computers and annoying workmates were the main cause of "office rage" -- and women are more likely to snap than men.

"Our research shows that common occurrences such as broken computers and interruptions can push people over the edge at work," said Tim Watts, chairman of Pertemps, the British recruitment agency who commissioned the survey.

The report found 51 percent of women had nearly punched a colleague, compared to 39 percent of the men questioned.

Three quarters of workers felt they worked less productively in a bad mood. Some 15 percent said fear of making a mistake when their boss was angry made them work more slowly.

Pertemps said employees can cut tension by avoiding gossip, talking to managers and not disturbing colleagues.

Bosses should defuse conflicts early, listen to staff complaints, avoid overcrowding and set realistic workloads and deadlines. (Reuters)

What's In A Name?

ROCKFORD, Mich. — If this happens again, maybe the street should be renamed Sunshine Drive.

A small tornado that touched down Tuesday evening near Whirlwind Street uprooted trees, damaged several buildings and tipped over a delivery truck.

The National Weather Service confirmed that a twister packing winds estimated at 70 mph caused the damage, The Grand Rapids Press reported Thursday.

The tornado was ranked as an F-0, the least-powerful category of twisters on a scale that goes up to F-5, said Bob Dukesherer, a weather service meteorologist. In an F-5 tornado, winds can reach up to 318 mph.

The tornado that struck about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of Whirlwind and Summit Avenue was so weak, Doppler radar failed to detect it.

"There weren't any warnings out with this one, not a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning," Dukesherer said.

Still, the twister was strong enough to leave a path of damage 300 feet wide and a mile long. (AP)

Bogus Brain Surgeon Busted

CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian police have arrested a man who performed brain surgery on a number of people even though he had only a primary school education, court sources said.

The 40-year-old man saw around 200 patients a week in the oasis town of Fayoum near Cairo. He charged 22 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of $4.74 per patient, and operated on a number of people. The fate of his victims was not immediately known.

The man had forged a secondary school certificate and claimed to have studied brain surgery in Cairo and Germany. (Reuters)

Ambulance Crew Deja Vu

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — After being struck by a pickup truck, a teenager said he was stunned when he recognized a member of the ambulance crew that took him to the hospital as the motorist who hit him.

"I looked at him; I think he looked back at me," said Morgan Taylor, 16. "It was kind of weird. I was scared. I didn't dare say anything."

The 18-year-old emergency medical technician is expected to be charged next week with felony criminal vehicular injury and misdemeanor reckless driving, according to the Grant County attorney's office.

According to police, Taylor and a friend were walking home July 27 when they recognized a girl in a pickup truck at a park. The boys did not know the driver.

"They were starting to talk to them or harass them or whatever," said Elbow Lake Police Chief Luverne Sik.

The driver backed up, and Taylor's friend hopped in the back of the truck. But Taylor was hit when the driver pulled forward, Sik said.

Taylor said his friend helped him limp to a nearby clinic, where the doctor called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. When the ambulance arrived, Taylor said he recognized the pickup driver as part of the crew. (AP)

Hyphen Your Way To The Top

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The humble hyphen is at the center of a dispute over the listing of a congressional candidate's name on a primary ballot.

One of four Democrats seeking an open Sarasota-area congressional seat sued one of his opponents over the punctuation in her name, which affects where it will appear on the ballot.

Candidate Patrick Feheley objects to his rival being listed as Candice Brown-McElyea. He prefers Candice Brown McElyea.

Candidates will be listed on the ballot in alphabetical order when voters go to the polls on Sept. 10. Brown-McElyea comes before Feheley; McElyea, used alone as a last name, doesn't.

Feheley's suit seeks to determine whether a candidate "may for the purpose of gaining a preferable ballot position change their surname after having qualified as a candidate."

Brown-McElyea says Brown is part of her last name, not her middle name.

"There's no statute, no law, that says I did anything wrong," she said. "You can be anything you want on the ballot."

The suit was filed in Tallahassee, the state capital, because the state Division of Elections certifies names for the ballot. (AP)

Swift Justice, Switched Justice

HARRISBURG, Pa. — It wasn't the way Eric Greene hoped to spend his vacation: passing the afternoon in jail after being arrested at gunpoint and charged with robbing a bank.

After making a morning transaction at Members First Credit Union bank in Susquehanna Township, Greene said he returned home in the afternoon and found that police had kicked in his door and were pointing their guns at him.

He was arrested and charged with stealing $60,000 from the bank in an armed robbery that morning. He was released into his parents' custody.

"I didn't understand why they had arrested me or anything," the 26-year-old said. "I kept trying to tell myself 'I'm on vacation.' It was like watching something in a movie, but I was the star."

Susquehanna Township Police Chief Robert A. Martin said it was a case of mistaken identity and all charges against Greene had been dropped.

"On behalf of the Susquehanna Township Police Department, we offer Mr. Greene our heartfelt apologies," Martin said. Martin declined to say what led police to pursue Greene as a suspect.

Detrick Dawkins, 18, who was also arrested in the robbery and charged with bank robbery, aggravated assault and related charges, remained in Dauphin County Prison on $100,000 bail. (AP)

Take A Vacation, Heck, Take An Island

MILAN, Italy - Of the thousands of tourists who gaze at the beauty of Venice each year, many have dreamed of living it up in one of the elegant water-lapped palazzi that line the city's canals.

Now there's an alternative -- how about buying a whole Venetian island on the Internet?

The two-acre Tessera Island, which lies north of the main clump of islands that make up the lagoon city, is up for sale for $4.5 million on -- including speed boat.

The Web site lists more than 100 islands for sale or to rent from Greece to the Bahamas because "nearly everyone dreams of owning an island."

Tessera Island is currently owned by creative thinking guru Edward de Bono who holds a brain-training course there once a year, according to his Web Site (Reuters)

Buffalo To Celebrate First Wingfest

BUFFALO, New York - Buffalo chicken wings are finally getting some respect. Folks in the northwestern New York city are getting ready for the first National Buffalo Wing Festival. The idea comes from a Bill Murray movie, "Osmosis Jones." Organizers aren't sure how many people will show up for the event the weekend before Labor Day. But they've ordered 20 tons of chicken wings. The festival is a good idea to Ivano Toscani. He's the manager of the Anchor Bar, where Buffalo-style chicken wings were invented in 1964. He says outsiders only know three things about Buffalo -- the awful winter weather, the four Super Bowl loses -- and great wings. (AP)

Evil Spirits Get Bum's Rush

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A Town Council known for nasty squabbling called in a shaman to rid its meeting hall of bad vibes.

Christopher Beaver conducted a "smudging ceremony" in the Telluride Town Council chambers earlier this summer after he declared the basement room full of negative — even violent — energy.

Members of the council say they've been in agreement more lately, but they're reluctant to attribute that to the ceremony, which included burning imported menthol. But they say it opened their minds.

"I'm not saying there is a connection," said Mayor John Steel, a 67-year-old, cowboy-hat-wearing attorney. "What it really did maybe was to focus people's minds on trying to seek higher ground."

Telluride's leaders have other unusual practices. They open meetings with a poetry reading and a moment of silence.

Steel said the open-minded Town Council may be open to whatever else might bring harmony, with meetings regularly stretching nine or 10 hours.

"We haven't gone to a sweat lodge yet," he said. "Maybe that will be the next step." (AP)

Elvis Is Toast

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A New Zealand supermarket owner has spent two months fashioning his own unique toast to mark the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death.

Maurice Bennett has constructed a portrait measuring 62 square feet of the King of Rock 'n' Roll out of more than 4,000 small slices of toast.

Bennett, whose previous toast portraits include Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and New Zealand rugby star Jonah Lomu, says Elvis has a special place in his heart.

"I'm totally into Elvis," he said.

Using a commercial oven capable of cooking up to 90 slices of toast at once, Bennett grilled the bread to six different shades ranging from burned for Elvis' hair to lightly warmed for his skin.

Elvis died of a drug-induced heart attack on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42 and tributes are planned this week around the world. (Reuters)

Low-Speed Police Chase Ends Predictably

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — It wasn't your typical stolen vehicle — and it definitely wasn't a textbook police pursuit.

An officer on his way to work at 6:30 a.m. Monday was startled to see a 30-year-old man cruising down the shoulder of the street on a child's Fisher Price Power Wheels car.

The 180-pound rider was about 10 times the recommended age for the battery-operated car, which nonetheless held up under his weight, plugging along at 3 mph, police said.

Police eventually stopped the man after perhaps the slowest chase on record.

The officer sounded his car horn and showed his badge to the driver, who ignored him. So the officer got out on foot and walked up to the culprit.

Police said the driver smelled of alcohol and stumbled as he tried to get up. He told police he was going to his uncle's home, but didn't say why he was using a toy to get there.

The officer took the man to police headquarters and released him after he sobered up, police said. A woman who called police to report that her son's toy car had been stolen opted not to press charges, but police charged the man with public drunkenness. (AP)

Spare Tire Foils Bank Robbery

ROME - A chubby thief was caught by Italian police because he could not squeeze through a hole drilled in the wall of a bank he was about to break into, Italian media reported.

A criminal gang, of which 54-year-old Giovanni Sollami was the largest member, had drilled the hole in the wall of the bank in the northwestern port city of Genoa.

But once his two accomplices had slipped through, Sollami found the hole was too narrow for him.

So he then walked around to the front door of the bank where closed-circuit security cameras picked him up, making the rest easy for police. (Reuters)

Woman Convinces Bureaucrats She's Alive

BERLIN - A retired cleaning lady has managed to convince German bureaucrats she is alive - two months after an office blunder listed her as dead on nationwide computer records.

Vjekoslava Smajic, a Croatian who has lived in Germany for 33 years, had to get a medical certificate confirming she was alive before anyone would believe her after her health insurance, pension and bank account were canceled.

"At first it was all rather amusing but there came a point when it wasn't at all funny," Smajic, 64, told Reuters. "It's nice to be alive again."

It turned out another woman named Smajic had died in May and the pension payment agency had incorrectly booked Vjekoslava Smajic as dead. All her accounts were reopened. (Reuters)

She Doesn't Look A Day Over 110

San Diego - You're only as old as you feel - and America's oldest woman is feeling a little bit younger. Adelina Domingues thought she was 115 years old. But researchers with the Guinness Book of Records say the San Diego area woman was born in February 1888. That makes her 114. A search of documents in her native Cape Verde Islands showed Domingues was born a year later than she believed. Domingues' relatives say she isn't bothered to learn she's not as old as she thought. The family will just celebrate her 115th birthday again next year. (AP)

No Funny Business In San Jose

SAN JOSE, California - The U.S. Catholic Church's drive for greater transparency after a raft of damaging sex scandals is being taken literally by one California bishop.

He has ordered church confessionals to be equipped with see-through windows.

Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose ordered windows or glass doors put into confessionals and counseling rooms "to have the perception match the fact that people are safe" with church priests, Vicar General Francis Cilia said.

"This still allows for privacy, it still allows for inaudible confession, the secrecy of what goes on. It just makes it a bit more open. We think it's the prudent thing to do," Cilia said.

McGrath's order will affect hundreds of confessionals and counseling rooms in the diocese's 52 churches and missions, mandating that they be equipped with see-through glass within a year.

Cilia said "old-style" confessionals, in which the priest and the penitent are in adjoining chambers separated by a screen, would not be affected. (Reuters)

Toilet Humor

RIVERVIEW, New Brunswick - Potty training turned traumatic for a Canadian tot - when the toilet bit back. Firefighters in Riverview, New Brunswick, had to smash the bowl with a hammer to free two-and-a-half-year-old Aidin Richard. The boy's arm was caught in the toilet trap when he stuck his hand in the hole at the bottom of the bowl. The toilet was new and wasn't hooked up yet. His mother called for help when she found Aidin stuck in the john past this elbow. (AP)

Horsing Around Lands Dad In Court

ROME - An outraged Italian mother has gone to court after her husband furtively named their newborn son after a prize-winning horse.

Before his wife was out of hospital, the man went to the records office in the small southern town of Boscotrecase to register his son as Varenne Giampaolo.

Varenne is a seven-year-old horse considered the greatest trotter in history and Giampaolo is his jockey's name.

"He said his wife agreed," an official at the records office told Reuters.

Varenne is, after all, no ordinary horse. The dark brown racer is a national hero in Italy where he was awarded the title of athlete of the year in 2001.

But when the mother discovered she couldn't change the baby's name to Christian, she went to court.

"She just wouldn't accept that the name isn't embarrassing or insulting," the official said. The court's ruling is pending. (Reuters)

Bar Owner Gets Viking Funeral

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan - There was a bit of viking in bar owner Arne Shield. Now, Shield has gotten his final wish -- a viking burial at sea. The Traverse City, Michigan, businessman was sent to his final resting-place on a flaming papier-mache boat. The burning craft was set adrift on Lake Michigan at dusk, while his family and friends said their farewells. Shield's remains had already been cremated and his ashes were on the model viking ship. His daughter Betty Carden says Shields loved the water. (AP)

Hot Seat In The City

MIAMI - City officials are in the hot seat - literally.

Mayor Manny Diaz and others are working to fix new black steel benches at city bus stops, which have proven to be too hot to sit on in the summer sun.

"I've sat on a bench myself and it's uncomfortably warm even with a pair of pants on," Assistant City Manager Frank Rollason said Monday.

About 150 of the 1,500 new benches have already been installed in the city, replacing older ones made of cement and wood.

Rollason said city planners discussed the potential problem in meetings and that he did not know why it was initially ignored. No more benches will be installed until the problem is resolved, he said.

Sarmiento Advertising Group was awarded the contract in January to produce the new seats. Sarmiento CEO Alberto Waisman has said his company will pay to refit benches.

The solution could be a plastic coating that would insulate the benches, Rollason and Waisman said.

Rollason said he wanted to test a bench with the coating before approving the plan. (AP)

Girl Scouts In Demo Derby

TOLEDO, Ohio - Thin Mints are coming to the demolition derby. Girl Scouts in Toledo, Ohio, are doing something a little different this summer. Their scout camp is outfitting a '74 Chevrolet Impala to run in a demolition derby.

The car is being decorated with pictures of all the Girl Scout cookies. The girls are also learning how to do everything from changing the oil to changing a tire. Veteran racer Jeff Baldwin is convinced. He won last year's derby using the scout's first car. It was Baldwin's first victory in ten years of demolition derbies.

A Cop Named Cocaine? You Make The Call

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A police officer's name nearly cost her her job. The problem was the way El Paso officer Christine Lynn O'Kane's name appeared on her identification tag and e-mails: C. O'KANE.

"When you put it together, it spells 'cocaine,'" said police spokesman Al Velarde.

O'Kane resigned from the El Paso Police Department on April 6, 2000, to take care of her ailing mother, the El Paso Times reported. She had a good service record, and her work file included a recommendation that she be reinstated if she reapplied in the future.

But when O'Kane reapplied with the department months later, she found it no longer supported her reinstatement. Police management cited the "inappropriate" use of her name as the basis for their denial.

O'Kane had been using "C. O'Kane" in e-mails including a goodbye message to co-workers she sent in April 2000.

"In reading the (e-mail) header, it is clear that the intention was to refer to the drug cocaine," states an April 2, 2001, e-mail from Assistant Police Chief Richard Wiles to the department's personnel director.

It later continues: "It placed the department in a position of being subjected to public ridicule and disrespect."

O'Kane appealed her case to the Civil Service Commission on May 24, 2001, and the commission supported her position. She was rehired in September 2001 and now works as a police officer in El Paso's Lower Valley.

Since being rehired, O'Kane switched to her maiden name, Whitaker.

Goatsucker Eligible For Unemployment

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentina's bankrupt government is notorious for writing checks to workers who never show up, but eyebrows were raised when an imaginary "goatsucker" showed up on payroll recently.

Registered as "goatsucker, male, born in 1900," the mythological figure blamed for animal maulings throughout Latin America is eligible to receive unemployment benefits of about $42 per month, local media reports said.

"It could be in doubt whether he deserves the money or not, but he is registered as a real person with an identity number and everything," a systems analyst said.

Officials blamed the error on a technical glitch and said the goatsucker would be eliminated from the benefits list as quickly as possible.

Excessive government spending and corruption are cited as the root causes of Argentina's worst-ever economic crisis, which has left more than 21 percent of the workforce without jobs.

The government said the goatsucker never collected his checks. (Reuters)

Rome Cracks Down On Fountain Swimmers

ROME - Life in Rome isn't so sweet after all. A new urban code approved by city officials this weekend imposes stiff fines for fountain swimmers like Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."

The diva would have to cough up 500 euros ($500) for the pleasure of splashing around in the famed Trevi fountain in today's Rome.

Under the new list of regulations, many of which are extensions from the previous code, bathers in non-historic fountains will be fined a mere 100 euros, Corriere della Sera reported on Sunday.

Bathers aren't the only problem at the Trevi fountain. A homeless man who has long made his living fishing coins out of the Renaissance masterpiece was arrested last week for theft. A mother and son team was nabbed when they attempted it.

Rome residents can also be slapped with fines for hanging their laundry out to dry in the open.

If You Think Rome Is Tough...

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia has flogged 12 teenage boys in public after charging them with harassing women at a park designated for families in the conservative Muslim kingdom, al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported on Sunday.

It said the youths were given 15 lashes each inside the park for "flirting and bothering families" after scaling the walls of the enclosure in the resort city of Taif.

Saudi Arabia's strict implementation of Islamic sharia law bans unrelated men and women from mixing before marriage. Women are also required to cover up in public.

Punishment in the kingdom includes beheading for murder, rape and drug smuggling, stoning for adultery and flogging for relatively minor crimes including alcohol consumption. (Reuters)

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