News of the Weird

Week of April 28, 2002

LEAD STORIES

-- In recent months, two different Hindu cults in India have begun to embrace ancient sacrifice rituals, one using horses and the other using the "Nara bali" practice of human sacrifice. In the village of Juna Padia, Assam, 150 priests participate in ceremonies to slaughter 10 horses and collect their deified blood for, they say, peace and prosperity. And in the state of Orissa, because of a paucity of human volunteers to sacrifice, the Kamakhya Temple cult uses human-size effigies made of flour, which its leaders insist are just as powerful in impressing divine forces.

-- South Korea's baby-boomer parents in increasing numbers recently are sending their preschool youngsters for outpatient mouth surgery to snip the tissue under the tongue because they believe more tongue freedom will permit the children to pronounce the difficult "l" and "r" sounds that have long stigmatized many Asians when speaking English. "Learning English is almost the national religion" in South Korea, according to one educator quoted in a March Los Angeles Times report, but many authorities in South Korea say Asians' pronunciation trouble is purely cultural and that only a very few people are born with tight-enough tongues to be helped by these "frenectomies."

The In-Turmoil Revenue Service

IRS admitted to a Washington Post reporter in April that it had paid out $30 million in fraudulent refunds in the last two years to black taxpayers claiming (at about $40,000 each) the nonexistent slavery reparations credit (and 12 of those were IRS employees). (However, IRS did catch $2.4 billion of slavery claims before refunds went out.) And the agency filed formal charges against at least two accountants who have been advising clients to use "Section 861" of the tax code to claim (preposterously, according to every court that has heard the claim) that income tax only applies to Americans who work for foreign companies. (That scam reached prominence in March when the agency revealed that actor Wesley Snipes had asked IRS to refund the $7.3 million he paid in 1997 taxes, citing Section 861.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- Spanish inventor Andres Diaz made the first U.S. sale of his $20,000, side-loading, automatic cat-washing machine late last year to a Miami company, PetClean USA. The three-cycle, 37-nozzle machine processes the cat in 30 minutes, and Diaz swears the cat doesn't mind it. (And in March, Antrim, Northern Ireland, inventor Trevor Graham was awarded about $8,500 from the Winston Churchill Foundation to study mobile dog-washing equipment in the U.S.)

-- Other Recent Inventions: Vladimir Markov's "anti-rape" jeans, with a locked, coded steel top button designed to discourage attackers who haven't time to figure out how to open it (Croatia). And college-student inventors' pulsating vest composed of eight cellular phones' vibrating units sewn in to touch acupuncture-friendly parts of the abdomen (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore).

-- New Management Incentive Structures: Tyson Foods' CEO John Tyson was awarded a $2.1 million bonus for last year despite a dismal economic performance and a federal indictment for smuggling in illegal aliens to work at 15 plants in nine states; headquarters officials said the alien problem must have been 15 individual managers out of control. And federal government bonuses to its managers increased by 25 percent for the last fiscal year to an average of $11,000, despite, to put it gently, widely varied agency performances in meeting goals.

Weird Science

-- "Quorn," an edible, nutritious fungus that its manufacturer says looks and tastes "like chicken," made its U.S. debut in January from the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical house AstraZeneca. Quorn (also known as mycoprotein) is sold as chickenlike nuggets or in lasagna or as a ground beef-like substance and is high in protein and fiber and low in calories. Said a sports nutritionist quoted by the Associated Press: "I think it's got a lot of potential. We just have to make sure 'fungus' is not going to appear on the label."

-- A Manitoba, Canada, farmer filed a lawsuit in January against four doctors and the Brandon Regional Health Authority after he contracted the flesh-eating-bacteria disease while undergoing colon surgery. The man had to have his buttocks amputated.

People With Issues

At press time, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board was still considering what to do about Pittsburgh Common Pleas judge H. Patrick McFalls Jr., based on recent alleged incidents: creating a disturbance at an airport ticket counter (while visiting Charlotte, N.C., late December); "giving" his $60,000 car to a young man and not remembering it so that he later called in a stolen car report (Feb. 5); being arrested for creating a disturbance with a cab driver about the fare (while visiting Miami Beach, Feb. 11); removing his pants at a restaurant (Feb. 14); being arrested at a theater for becoming boisterous during a movie (March 30); allowing his pants to fall down several times while having an animated conversation on the street (March 30).

Least Justifiable Homicides

Recent Reasons Given: victim (his own mother) wouldn't pay the $1,850 fee he promised his date from an escort service (Dean Glick, 41, convicted in Scottsdale, Ariz., March); victim fought him over a can of Natural Light beer (Armando Galvez, 36, arrested in Fort Myers, Fla., March); schoolteacher-victim called him a "queer" (Ronnie Worley, 22, convicted in rural Winfield, W.Va., in March); roommate-victim disagreed with him over whether to turn the lights off (Joseph Rich, 56, arrested in Broward County, Fla., January); victims (his own wife and son) had to be killed in order to keep them from learning he was about to be arrested for rape (Kenneth Hairston, 50, arrested in Pittsburgh, December).

Least Competent Criminals

"For almost 20 years," wrote a Boston Globe reporter in March, "convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer (imprisoned at the MCI-Norfolk facility in Massachusetts) has waged a public campaign maintaining his innocence," most recently demanding DNA tests that would clear him of a brutal attack on an elderly woman. LaGuer's supporters raised $30,000 for the test, and on March 22, the results came back: The sperm was LaGuer's. (But even worse off was rape suspect Marshall Thomas, 44, who early this year finally received his long-begged-for DNA test that he was sure would free him from a 1999 rape charge. That case is still pending, in Belleville, Ill., but Thomas's DNA was matched to an earlier, unsolved rape, and prosecutors said they planned to file additional charges.)

Our Civilization in Decline

The Girl Scouts recently began offering merit badges in stress-reduction to scouts aged 8 to 11, but the girls, of course, had to complete a schedule of activities to earn one. And a Colorado artist created a line of hand-painted figurines in the images of serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Ed Gein (March). And Britain's Medical Research Council reported that British men's sperm counts continued to drop, probably because of exposure to industrial pollutants, and are now proportionately about one-third the level of hamsters' sperm counts (March).

Also, in the Last Month ...

The premiere of Thailand's version of "The Weakest Link" TV show was deeply controversial because the show's trademark brutality and selfishness so much contravened the country's alleged sensitivity and generosity (Bangkok). A 32-year-old man, fleeing into the woods on foot after a police traffic stop, was quickly captured after being incapacitated by a skunk's spray (Lewiston, Maine). Police shut down what an officer called a "full-service (drive-through) drug window" at an apartment house (Syracuse, N.Y.). The Sioux City, Iowa, city council made yet another official request to the Federal Aviation Administration to change its airport designation, which is SUX.

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

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