-- Things You Thought Didn't Happen Anymore: An agency of the International Chamber of Commerce in London reported in January that a total of 51 people on ships were killed in 1997 in attacks by pirates. The prime areas of concern were near Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Brazil.
-- The Blessed Family Unit: In December, a judge in Montgomery County, Md., awarded custody of a 2-year-old boy to his biological mother, Latrena D. Pixley, 23, despite the fact that she murdered an infant daughter in 1992 for crying too much. (She was given a suspended sentence for the murder and found a job, during which she engaged in credit-card fraud, to which she later pleaded guilty. The judge sent her to prison for that but changed his mind and let her out a few months later.) And the month before, Bertha Bromley, 34, was sentenced to probation in Edwardsville, Ill., for attempting to strangle her 9-month-old boy, and social workers say they are working toward eventually reuniting mother and son.
-- The Times of London reported in January that 10,000 current or former Irish soldiers have filed claims that they suffered hearing loss while in the military, either on firing ranges or playing in army bands, and judges have been rewarding them to the tune of about $33,000 per claim, on average. In addition, reported the Times, just recently the first claim was filed against the army for compensation for skin cancer, by an Irish soldier on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon who said he should have been issued sunscreen.
SEEDS OF OUR DESTRUCTION
-- In December, Iowa Wesleyan College announced it would award an honorary degree in business to Cambodian tycoon Teng Bunma, who is a close adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and who has long been suspected of cocaine trafficking. Teng Bunma recently made international headlines when he shot out a Royal Air Cambodge airliner's tires in retaliation for lost luggage and a short time later for pulling a gun on the crew of an Orient Thai Airlines flight so they wouldn't take off before his companions arrived. (In January, when it was pointed out that Teng Bunma had been denied a U.S. visa because of the drug allegations, the college withdrew the degree.)
-- On the heels of reports that Sweden forcibly sterilized 60,000 people with inferior genes between 1935 and 1976, Stockholm's second-largest newspaper Aftonbladet reported in September that government-supported dentists had force-fed candy to mentally handicapped people in 10-year experiments to help determine whether sugar facilitates tooth decay. (It does.)
-- Charles Keating Is a Lucky Man: In October, Mr. Cen Huanreng, mayor of a village in Guangdong province, China, was convicted of selling about $2.1 million worth of public property and then gambling away the money at a Macau casino. He was sentenced to death. (The report did not say when he would die, but execution usually comes swiftly after sentencing and is rarely announced in the press.)
-- Marijuana festivals were held in October in Spain (first time) and in November in Amsterdam (10th annual Cannabis Cup, sponsored by High Times magazine). In Madrid, 50 growers competed for plant quality awards by blind-sampling each other's work. In Amsterdam, 2,000 people taste-tested the products of many vendors. (Publicist Jody Miller, who said she had been high for three days solely on second-hand smoke, tried to explain how it is possible to taste-test so much dope: "You have to pace yourself.")
-- Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, who visited Scotland for the British Commonwealth summit in October, left without accepting the invitation of British gay rights leaders to be hooked up to an erotic arousal machine to determine whether his rabid anti-gay bias is really a shield for homosexual feelings. Mugabe has called gays "lower than dogs and pigs." Erection-measuring research by a University of Georgia professor indicates that as many as 80 percent of gay-hating men become aroused at gay erotic videos.
-- The New England Journal of Medicine reported in December that at least half the drugs donated to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war (perhaps many of them from U.S. companies, though no company or country was identified in the article) were useless and even dangerous, apparently donated largely for the benefit of the company and not the recipients. Not only were 17,000 tons of drugs out of date (or spoiled, or with untranslated instructions), and not only did most or all of the companies get charitable tax deductions in their own countries, but disposal costs of about $2,000 a ton fell to the World Health Organization.
-- In August, two cities debated plans to reduce the amount of dog poop in municipal parks and on sidewalks. The city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was contemplating installing a series of anonymous "poopcams" around town to catch dog owners who neglect their scooping duty. And Tel Aviv, Israel, announced that squads of plainclothes police officers armed with cameras and night-vision equipment were on duty around the clock photographing violators of its ordinance.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
-- In July, long-haired defensive end Brent Burnstein walked out of the Tennessee Oilers' training camp, thus putting his lucrative career in jeopardy, rather than submit to the traditional rookie haircut at the hands of veteran players. And in November, five football players from Leguna-Acona (N.M.) High School quit the team just before the first playoff game, in order to go deer hunting.
-- Vanity Fair magazine reported in its January issue that when the warden at the Huntsville, Texas, prison was trying to accommodate the last requests of death-row inmate Larry Wayne White (who appeared in News of the Weird before, for an obvious reason) last May, he got his preferred last meal but not a last cigarette. The prison is a nonsmoking facility.
-- In August, after an investigation, police in Compton, Calif., announced that they no longer believed that high school English teacher Shannan Barron, who is black, was the victim of a racist feces-dumping attack, as she had claimed. Their most helpful evidence was the crime lab's finding that the feces on her pants came from the inside and thus that it was probable that Barron had, as the police chief put it, a "personal accident."
-- An August letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from Dr. Rachel L. Chin described a U.S. woman's infection from botfly larvae that she picked up in Peru. The patient was looking at spots on her legs when she saw things start to wiggle out. Eventually, seven maturing bugs, which had been gestating in the infection, emerged before she got medical help.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US
-- In 1988, Iranian Merhan Nasseri, then 46, landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry into England because his passport, and United Nations refugee certificate, had been stolen. French authorities would not let him leave the airport, and there he has been ever since, in Terminal One, luggage at his side, reading, writing in his diary, studying economics, receiving food and newspapers from airport employees. News of the Weird (which gave status reports on Nasseri in 1991 and 1995) has also been around since 1988, and with this column begins its 11th year. Charles de Gaulle spokeswoman Danielle Yzerman said, of Nasseri, "An airport is kind of a place between heaven and earth; he has found a home here." So is a newspaper, and so has "News of the Weird."
(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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