News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

Week of April 27, 1997

-- The Times of London reported in March that when an employee of the James Beauchamp law firm in Edgbaston, England, recently killed himself, the firm billed his mother about $20,000 for the expense of settling his officework. Included was a bill for about $2,300 to go to his home to find out why he didn't show up at work (thus finding his body), plus about $500 for identifying the body for the coroner, plus about $250 to go to his mother's home, knock on her door, and tell her that her son was dead. (After unfavorable publicity, the firm withdrew the bill.)

-- In April, commenting on the breakthroughs in cloning, Ann Northrop, a columnist for a New York lesbian and gay publication, argued that cloning could give women total control over reproduction: "Men are now totally irrelevant," she wrote. "Men are going to have a very hard time justifying their existence on the planet." And a week later, two Rutgers University researchers reported confirming that an alternative nervous-system route to sexual arousal exists, from the cervix to the neck to the brain, thus accounting for why some spinal-cord-injured people can nevertheless have orgasms. One of the researchers said it might thus be possible to induce orgasm chemically by stimulating the specific neurotransmitter.

-- University of North Carolina law professor Barry Nakell, 53, a nationally known expert on death-penalty law, was fired in February after pleading guilty to shoplifting food and a book from a store in Chapel Hill. He had also been charged with shoplifting in 1991, but the charge was dismissed after he performed community service.

GOVERNMENT IN ACTION

-- The Los Angeles Times reported in December that nearly 2,000 criminals, "hundreds" of them violent or repeat offenders, have escaped in the last two years from a lackadaisically run work-release program of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. In most cases, inmates were merely asked if they preferred work-release, with no examination of their criminal records.

-- In a September statement, Joseph Sniezek, an official of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Injury Prevention, lamented the serious injuries suffered by rodeo bull riders and suggested a solution might be to require helmets.

-- In November, as part of a growing trend to micromanage school curricula, the New York legislature required that all public school students age 8 and above receive formal instruction in the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. That follows a requirement that students be given instruction weekly on how animals fit into "the economy of nature." (New Jersey already requires instruction on the potato famine, via amendment to its law requiring instruction on the Holocaust.)

-- In January in an experiment to exercise better crowd control over opposition-party demonstrations in Jakarta, Indonesia, the local police chief put seven cobras in a glass case in front of the main police station and said they would be used to intimidate protesters. He said police would wave the cobras at the crowd, but it was not clear whether officers relished handling the snakes in the first place or that such crowds would allow the officers to get close enough for the snakes to strike.

-- The National Wilderness Institute charged in January that the Department of the Interior has failed to remove several plant and wildlife species from the government's endangered list despite the common knowledge that they (such as the "Maguire daisy") do not exist. The government resists because it says it costs $37,000 to remove a name from the list but meanwhile has added hundreds of new ones in recent years.

-- The governing commercial body of Europe, the European Union, ruled in February that despite a six-century tradition, wooden shoes manufactured in the Netherlands would no longer be permitted in the workplace unless they could meet the same standards as steel-toed safety shoes. Shoe manufacturers warn that Dutch clogs might soon disappear altogether. As one shoe executive said, "It would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower."

-- In December, the Canadian Defence Department issued a 17-page set of guidelines for manufacturers who wish to compete for new contracts to supply underwear to the military. Among the most challenging requirements are that one pair must be able to be worn for six-month stints in the field and that the garment must be invisible to night-vision goggles so that a skivvy-clad soldier does not offer a target to snipers.

SEEDS OF OUR DESTRUCTION

-- The Sunday Times of London reported in December that 300 tons of humanitarian aid from Western countries was sitting in Bosnian warehouses because it is useless. Included were birth control pills with an expiration date of 1986, weight-reduction tablets from Britain, mouthwash from the United States, and chemical waste from Germany. According to the Times, some war-zone drivers have been killed transporting these supplies, and the German chemicals by law cannot be returned, thus creating a hazardous waste disposal problem for Bosnians.

-- The Associated Press reported in February on Ms. Myassar Abul-Hawa, 52, the first female taxicab driver in Jordan. Her business is brisk, in part because some devout Muslim men ask for her by name to chauffeur their wives and daughters so they won't be alone with male drivers. (As is sometimes the case in the United States, Abul-Hawa turned to taxi-driving when she could not put to use her degree in English literature.)

-- In the last six months, several reports have surfaced from the old Soviet Union countries that nearly bankrupt factories have been forced to pay their workers merchandise instead of cash. Included were eggs paid to farm workers in Klyuchi, Siberia; old train cars given to railroad workers in Ukraine; salaries of from 33 to 42 brassieres a month by an underwear factory in Volgograd, Russia; and, from another Volgograd factory, rubber dildos (which are in surplus, according to The Economist magazine, because the market has turned to electronic vibrators).

UPDATE

Carrying on a 40-year tradition, Filipinos in the village of San Pedro Cutud recently conducted their Easter audience-participation crucifixion ceremonies, with 12 volunteers nailed to crosses with sterilized 4-inch spikes in a show of absolution. As News of the Weird reported in 1990, for several years the Philippines Department of Tourism was an official sponsor of the event.

IDENTICAL ALL THE WAY

In March in Lipovljani, Croatia, twin brothers Branko Uhiltil and Ivan Uhiltil, 57, committed suicide in separate incidents within hours of each other, apparently with utterly no knowledge of each other's plans. And in January, Jim Hare, 65, driving his identical twin brother, Tom, near Bellefontaine, Ohio, lost control of the car, and in the ensuing crash, both were killed instantly, at the same moment.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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