News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- Multinational corporations avoided $45 billion in U.S. taxes in 2000 by buying and selling with their own foreign subsidiaries at sometimes ridiculous prices, according to professors at Florida International University, in a study released in November by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. For example, U.S. subsidiaries would buy (with tax paid to the other country) a toothbrush for $5,655 or a flashlight for $5,000, while U.S. subsidiaries would sell (tax paid to the U.S.) a bulldozer for $528 or a prefabricated metal building for 82 cents.

-- Isaac Levy, 57, and Zebolan Simonto, 41, told The Washington Post in November that, though they are the only remaining Jewish residents of Kabul, Afghanistan, each had been treated much better by the Taliban than by each other. Their relentless, petty feud began three years ago when both claimed ownership of a handwritten edition of the Torah. Simonto had Levy imprisoned by accusing him of being an Israeli spy, and Levy had Simonto imprisoned by asserting that Simonto had tried to convert Muslims to Christianity and that he had brought prostitutes into his home. Each maintains his own dilapidated, visitorless synagogue.

Could Be Trouble Up Ahead

Willie Prince Cook, 21, on his arrest for peeping into a ladies' room stall at a county courthouse, said he was in the building on business, specifically, to pick up his new marriage license (Rockville, Md., August). And London's The Guardian reported that the U.S. firm OSI Pharmaceuticals is nearing the end of clinical trials for a cream that will make light-skinned people dark and dark-skinned people light. And identical twins Ruth and Rebecca Brown (students at Messiah College, Grantham, Pa.) were written up in their local newspaper for having created 4,386 tiny but highly detailed clay cats wearing Union and Confederate clothing, as part, they said, of their fascination with Civil War battlefields (October).

Cultural Diversity

-- The king of Tonga (Tonga is the island between Fiji and American Samoa) has an actual court jester (until recently, Jesse Bogdonoff), whom he appointed out of gratitude when Bogdonoff discovered that the king's lucrative passport-selling income was being deposited in an interest-free Bank of America account instead of earning interest. It subsequently appeared that Bogdonoff and some colleagues may have absconded with much of the money themselves, instead of re-investing it. Tonga might have made $40 million selling special passports (at $5,000 to $8,000) to prominent people in trouble, such as Imelda Marcos and many lower-level international miscreants.

-- In a November Associated Press report on arson in Tennessee and Kentucky, one state investigator said the two leading causes locally were boredom and the fact that arsonists appear to be following in their fathers' footsteps ("My daddy did it, so I'm doing it," the investigator quoted some as saying; "It passes from one generation to the next (like) child abuse."). A retired arson and bomb analyst for the FBI endorsed the father-son connection and said it was unique to the Tennessee-Kentucky region.

Latest Religious Messages

There has been an even bigger worldwide jump in exorcisms recently than in 1973 when the movie "The Exorcist" was released, according to several press reports in September. Official Roman Catholic exorcisms have jumped from one in 1995 to at least 15 in 2001 (and the church has 10 official exorcists on duty in the United States), and a Fordham University researcher said there may be 500 protestant evangelical exorcism ministries in the U.S. alone. The researcher, Michael Cuneo, said he had attended about 50 and seen "lots of fireworks, lots of dramatic activity" but nothing supernatural. Cuneo suggested that exorcisms will increase as people's feelings of helplessness increase.

-- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently approved a rare petition from a man to be an official hermit under the Catholic Church's canons. Richard Withers, 46, has vowed to do all the things a priest does except that he spends almost all of his time away from people, in contemplation (based on "an almost unremitting desire to be alone with God"). Brother Withers has a paying job (which he works at in silence) one day a week and exchanges e-mail with other hermits.

-- The Answers in Genesis ministry in Florence, Ky., is building a $14 million creationism museum to compete with classic-science museums, with exhibits that it says will demonstrate that the world was created in six days just as the Bible says. According to a December Los Angeles Times report, a large double-helix of DNA will be on display to suggest that humans are so complex that they could not possibly have evolved, and a life-sized dinosaur will be shown, along with the helpful information "Created on: Day 6." Ministry director Ken Ham said he is targeting Christians who do not take the Bible literally. "This is a cultural war," he said. "They need to know: We're coming."

People With Issues

Mohammad Afroz Abdul Razak, 25, told reporters in Melbourne, Australia, that he belonged to a cell of 20 al-Qaida terrorists whose missions included flying an airplane into that city's 55-story Rialto Towers, but an investigation revealed, at the least, that he was not even close to passing his flying lessons, having taken 17 months to accumulate 20 hours' flying time and hiding in his bed on the days of particularly difficult lessons. According to a December Sydney Morning Herald profile, Razak also did the decidedly unfundamentalist-Islamic thing of crying frequently about his problems in front of his Jewish landlady, and besides, the Australian government has denied the existence of any such al-Qaida cell.

Least Competent People

From the Police Report column of the Jackson County (Colo.) Star, listing a hunting accident on Oct. 6 in the south of the county: "A hunter shot a deer and was apparently trying to arrange his rifle on the antlers for a trophy photo when the gun fired, blowing off the man's thumb and part of his hand. When medical personnel arrived, the man had wrapped the wounded hand in duct tape."

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported a year ago that 1,400 college students were majoring in "golf" at eight universities, taking classes in business and turf science, in addition to shooting round after round of golf. Among other curricula recently reported are workshops at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, on how businesspeople schmooze effectively on the golf course (etiquette, ethics, and inferring a company's culture by the way its executives play golf), and an addition to the Penn State program, Spanish for Golf Course Turfgrass Management Students, to help future golf pros communicate better with Hispanic groundskeepers.

Our Civilization in Decline

The union representing 1,500 Church of England clergy has arranged for martial arts training after statistics showed being a vicar is more dangerous than being a probation officer (December). Imelda Marcos was awarded an $88-a-month World War II military widow's pension, despite recent charges (with more likely) that she looted the Philippine treasury of $350 million during her time as first lady (November). A 48-year-old polisher was pinned against a conveyor belt and killed by an industrial robot at a vehicle-wheel manufacturing plant (Norton, Ohio, December).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 39-year-old woman was found not guilty of abducting her children in a divorce fight but moments later convicted of contempt of court because she wouldn't stop putting her finger in her mouth and making popping sounds while the judge was speaking (Toronto). Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that any karaoke bars remaining open in the country would be destroyed by military tanks. On Dec. 17, a 47-year-old naturist announced that he had fulfilled his goal of driving 15,000 miles nude (Des Moines, Iowa). A 28-year-old man shot his wife to death, then drove to a highway overpass and shot himself to death, then toppled over the railing onto a Toyota Camry going 65 mph, killing the driver (Los Angeles).

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