News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

LEAD STORIES

-- State and federal authorities recently refused emergency water-quality funds to the town of Browning, Mont. (population 1,100), finding after extensive testing that the water is safe to drink even though it was described in a February Associated Press report as "mucky brown and silty," "gritty black," "filthy" and "revolting." The water's excessive iron and manganese violate no law, officials say, and as long as the bacteria count is low, only longer-range improvements (such as digging more wells) can be considered.

-- Mixed News for Women: Twenty wives petitioned for divorce in Cairo, Egypt, on March 1, the inaugural day in which wives were eligible to file without elaborate proof of abuse. (They must still wait three to six months for a ruling, whereas a husband who files gets his divorce instantly and with no reason required.) And in February, South Korea's national police announced it would begin placing unarmed female troops on the front lines in potentially violent street demonstrations, hoping to calm protesters. One rowdy labor union leader, acknowledging the wisdom of the decision, admitted, "How can we attack females?"

Japanese Cult Mania

By government estimates, 6,500 religious cults operate in Japan, according to a December Boston Globe story. Included are the $600 million organization Honohana, whose leader was accused by the government in January of defrauding disciples of up to $100,000 to alter their negative fates as revealed by his examinations of their feet, and Life Space, whose founder died in August but whose body was discovered by police in a Tokyo airport hotel room four months later, being ministered to by followers as if he were still alive (and in fact, the followers insisted to the media that the dried mummy was responding nicely to their care and had recently enjoyed some tea).

Questionable Judgments

-- According to a January Boston Globe report, 3 million residential customers still lease AT&T telephones (from Lucent Technologies) at rates of $53 to $252 a year, virtually all of whom have been doing so continuously since the breakup of AT&T in 1984. Most of the customers are elderly, and when a Globe reporter asked whether they were being exploited, the Lucent spokesperson said, "As long as there is demand for the service, we will continue to provide it."

-- Craig J. Ziegler, 35, was sentenced to five years' probation in Pittsburgh in November for impersonating a law-enforcement officer and then forcing a woman (a self-described former prostitute) to perform a sexual act. The victim was outraged that Ziegler got no jail time for the assault and pointed out to reporters that the last time she was in court for prostitution, she went to jail for seven months.

-- Zhang Guoqiang, 27, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February for swindling 50 people out of about $100,000, promising U.S. visas to people in the northern port city of Tianjin by showing them a photo of him with his bud Bill Clinton. An Associated Press reporter in Beijing said the photo shows Clinton in a green casual shirt with Zhang in a business suit pasted in next to him as if they posed together, with the two men's images "clearly out of proportion" to each other.

Awesome!

-- Terry Johnson, 36, received a fine and driver's license suspension in a Nova Scotia court in December over his refusal to take a Breathalyzer test at a DUI stop in 1999. Johnson's excuse was that he was belching too much at the time, as much as several times a minute for nearly two hours after being stopped, and that belches throw off the machine's readings. The police officer listed each burp, with the time, but finally just gave up and wrote the ticket. (In 1986, Johnson beat a similar charge by belching repeatedly.)

-- In December in Alberta, John Ebeling, 40, lost control of his pickup truck, crashed into a speeding freight train (onto which the truck hooked and was dragged along the tracks), freed himself from the truck onto the side of the train, held on for about 12 miles until he managed to uncouple the car he was on (causing the train to brake and his rail car to smash into it), and rode the out-of-control car into a ditch. Thirteen cars were derailed, and power lines were downed, but Ebeling walked away with only minor bruises.

-- Nathan King, 12, is recuperating in Helena, Mont., after early-March open-heart surgery to remove a pencil that he had fallen on lunging for a football. All told, before surgery began, King spent more than two hours with the pencil embedded in his heart, and if anyone had removed it, he would have died almost instantly. (King's welcome-home present from neighbors: a sweatshirt reading "Tougher Than Dracula.")

Leading Economic Indicators

-- According to a December Agence France-Presse report from Budapest, Hungarian physicians are increasingly relying on tips from patients to supplement their falling wages in the country's free health-care system. The practice is so common that the phrase "one final checkup" is widely used to indicate a brief visit to the examination room for the discreet money exchange.

-- In February Bloomberg News reported that the $23 million Internet company NetJ.com, which went public in November, had seen its share price double in recent weeks, to nearly $4, despite the fact that the company plainly disclosed in Securities and Exchange Commission documents that it not only had no profits but no revenues, and in fact that it did no business of any kind. The company told the SEC that it might begin doing business soon, but maybe not, but if it did, it had no specific idea about what kind of work it would do.

Recurring Themes

In 1998, News of the Weird touted the increasing popularity of therapeutic self-trepanation (drilling a hole in one's head to improve blood flow around the brain) for stress relief. In February 2000, after unsuccessfully soliciting doctors to drill in her native England, Heather Perry, 29 and suffering from what she believed was a physiologically induced exhaustion, flew to Philadelphia to seek guidance from prominent trepanist Peter Halvorson. After boning up on the technique, Perry performed the 20-minute procedure that was witnessed by a camera crew from ABC News. Said Perry afterward, "(T)here's definitely more mental clarity. I feel wonderful."

Undignified Deaths

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in October, a policeman shot a tipsy motorist to death at a traffic stop to prevent him from exposing himself to the officer, which according to local culture is a grave insult. And a 30-year-old repo man and a 19-year-old man behind in car payments killed each other in a gun battle in Miami, Fla., in February; the car that cost the two lives was a 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 62-year-old woman thought a stranger punched her in the neck, but it was a stabbing, and the 4-inch knife remained in her neck for 40 minutes while she grocery-shopped before a passerby pointed it out to her (Darby Township, Pa.). A Maryland state senator introduced a bill to make it illegal for one woman to breastfeed another's baby. Las Vegas police burst into an apartment and arrested a Florida murder suspect while he was watching "America's Most Wanted" on TV, believing that his crime would be featured that night. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals targeted an anti-milk campaign to college students, urging them to drink beer instead. At a routine traffic stop, police found 22 pounds of cocaine hidden in a car's center console, with a lock controlled by a magnet inside a passenger's bra (Enon, Ohio).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)

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