News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Hurricane Isabel roared through Virginia Beach, Va., in September, inflicting serious property damage, despite public calls for prayer to keep it away by prominent resident Rev. Pat Robertson, whose Christian Broadcasting Network is headquartered there. (In 1998, Robertson condemned the city of Orlando, Fla., for sponsoring a Gay Days festival, and warned that the city could be torn up during the subsequent hurricane season, as God punishes those who promote homosexuality. Instead, the first hurricane of that season (Bonnie) made a direct hit on Virginia Beach.)

People Different From Us

Alongside recent weight-loss and body-part-growth mass e-mails have been messages of Robert Todino, 22, of Woburn, Mass., who uses the spam (100 million messages so far) to locate time-travel hardware to buy because of his need to revisit his childhood, during which he believes a woman drugged him and implanted a device to give her followers the ability to monitor his every move. According to an August Wired magazine story, Todino has earnestly been seeking an "Acme 5X24 series time transducing capacitor with built-in temporal displacement" and an "AMD Dimensional Warp Generator module containing the GRC79 induction motor," among other gadgets, but that "the conspiracy" has subverted his attempts to acquire them.

Our Civilization in Decline

The school district based in Elgin, Ill., decided in August that, although four new schools that cost $40 million were ready to be occupied, the district has no money to operate them and that they will thus stay locked up for the entire school year, at least. And a September General Accounting Office report described (based on undercover work in seven states) the customer-friendliness that motor vehicle offices display when people try to obtain driver's licenses fraudulently; clerks routinely give "applicants" back their bogus papers (instead of confiscating them) and cheerfully instruct them exactly how to "correct" the applications to assure that they'll get that license on the next attempt.

Latest Religious Messages

-- A July Wall Street Journal report revealed that some women's clothing stores in Tehran, Iran, do a brisk backroom business in tight, colorful, sheer, form-fitting robes that are severely frowned upon by the conservative Islamic government, which prescribes the formless hijab robe. One clerk showed one that was actually a "paper-thin beige tunic made of stretchy material with two slits on each side," "with a matching tank top." Other popular robes make strategic use of zippers for women who have to convert their flashy clothing into something conservative in a hurry.

-- In September, religious fundamentalists brawled in Brooklyn, N.Y., when the locally dominant Satmar sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews moved aggressively against slightly less-ultra-Orthodox Jews who were using a loophole to be able to push baby strollers and wheelchairs around during the Sabbath, when such activity is prohibited in public. "The (Satmars) were like animals," said a security guard who witnessed the incident. (The "eruv" loophole allows such labor inside a symbolic wall, which the more liberal ultras had constructed with sticks and string.)

-- State and local law-enforcement officials met in Salt Lake City in August to discuss the growing and seemingly intractable problem of the radical, Mormon-based polygamist community that reaches from Hildale, Utah, to Colorado City, Ariz., and which has been denounced by mainstream Mormons. Issues included not just religious freedom and forced marriage for young girls, but the $5 million annually in federal benefits that go to polygamist wives who say they are "single" mothers on their welfare applications.

-- In August, bookstores began selling Revolve, a glossy, 392-page softcover title that directs a thought-by-thought rendition of the New Testament to its target audience of teenage girls, alongside text on typical teen-magazine subject matter such as beauty, fashion secrets and dating. (For example, proper etiquette, according to Revolve founder Laurie Whaley, requires the boy to initiate a relationship: "There's no indication from Scripture that Mary Magdalene ever (called) Christ.")

Least Competent Criminals

-- Florida wildlife officials, suspecting that Israel A. Cervantes was illegally shooting at deer from his car in the Ocala National Forest in August, asked to inspect his home freezer for stored meat, and, professing innocence, Cervantes agreed. There was no deer meat, but apparently Cervantes forgot about the pound of marijuana in the freezer, and he was arrested.

-- William Penny was arrested in Greenwood, Ind., in August, putting a halt to his alleged identity-theft business. He was caught because, three times in a three-day period, he had aroused suspicion of several people in a neighborhood by approaching a certain ATM on foot, carrying a motorcycle helmet, donning the helmet as he neared the ATM's camera, making a withdrawal (with someone else's ID, allegedly), walking away, and then removing the helmet.

Latest Alarming Headlines

(1) "Man With Ear Ache Gets Vasectomy" (an August Reuters dispatch from Rio de Janeiro about a patient who answered the wrong doctor's call at a clinic and endured the procedure because he thought the ear inflammation had deep roots). (2) "Groups Fight Over Fate of Feral Chihuahuas" (an August Reuters report on 170 wild Chihuahuas taken from a breeder in Acton, Calif., and ultimately given to one animal rescue outfit rather than another). (3) "Woman With No Baby Given Caesarean" (a September Melbourne (Australia) Herald Sun report on an overweight woman who went into cardiac arrest at a hospital after telling doctors she was pregnant, motivating them to try to deliver the baby in case they couldn't save her). (She survived; the baby never existed.)

More Things to Worry About

The Danish beer company Carlsberg announced it was relocating a plant from Stockholm, Sweden, to Gothenburg because there was too much uranium in the spring it uses near Stockholm. And the interior minister of the Netherlands, citing public concern, proposed to ban police officers from coffee shops that also legally sell marijuana. And authorities in Putnam County, W.Va., announced that someone had broken into a sheriff's deputy's home while he was away on vacation and set up a methamphetamine lab.

Out of Control in Boston

Furious at a rush-hour accident that blocked traffic in the Boston suburb of Weymouth, motorist (and software engineer) Anna Gitlin, 25, went ballistic at a police officer and then allegedly bumped him with her car, screaming, "I don't care who (expletive deleted by the Boston Globe) died. I'm more important" (June). And Joseph DiGirolamo, 43, distraught over domestic problems, allegedly barricaded himself inside an ex-girlfriend's home in Boston and hurled household items (TV set, room air conditioner, broomstick, a pot of boiling water) at police officers, threatening to kill them, before he was subdued (May).

Thinning the Herd

A 20-year-old man was killed in Denver during afternoon rush hour on Sept. 1 when he jumped from a car going about 40 mph; according to friends, he had been planning a nonfatal jump for a while because he wanted to endure some trauma in order to muster the courage to get a tattoo. And a 15-year-old boy in Maryland Heights, Mo., who had been demonstrating his pain tolerance by clobbering himself on the head with his skateboard, invited a pal to take a shot, too; the first blow knocked him out, and he died four days later.

Also, in the Last Month

A 47-year-old man was arrested for allegedly trying to steal a woman's backpack, his 177th arrest (Boulder, Colo.). A 36-year-old man was captured by a SWAT team after holding off police for 10 hours in a hotel room, in an incident begun when he threatened to kill hotel workers because there was no ice (Houston). And absolutely no one voted in a school board election in Mississippi County, Ark., on Sept. 16, not even Carl Miner, who was the only person on the ballot.

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