-- In December, McDonald's opened restaurants in its 100th country, Belarus, amid about 4,000 eager customers and 500 protestors, and a few days later, in its 101st, Tahiti. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, no two countries with McDonald's restaurants have ever gone to war against each other -- because, as Friedman theorizes, countries prosperous enough to support a McDonald's are surely stable enough to resist most provocations.
-- Texas A&M student Jonathan Culpepper and his fraternity, Kappa Alpha, were indicted in College Station, Texas, in December on a criminal hazing charge because of a severe "wedgie." The grand jury found that fraternity members lifted a candidate, unnamed in news reports, off his feet by the waistband of his briefs, causing the man to require the surgical removal of a testicle.
-- The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in December that a female inmate at the Yell County Jail in Dardanelle had been receiving regular shipments of methamphetamines via Federal Express. Jail officials had finally become suspicious and obtained the necessary search warrant to check her frequent deliveries.
-- During the Christmas Handicap race at a track in Melbourne, Australia, the horse Cogitate threw its rider and bumped the horse Hon Kwok Star, sending Hon's jockey, apprentice Andrew Payne, into the air. To break his fall, Payne grabbed the neck of Cogitate and then climbed into the stirrups and rode that horse across the finish line (though the official records would show that both horses were disqualified).
-- The Miami Herald reported in September that David McAllister, 77 and blind, a nursing-home invalid in North Miami Beach, Fla., receives daily visits from Chris Carrier, 32, who reads to McAllister from the Bible. Their only previous relationship occurred during a few days in December 1974, when McAllister kidnapped young Carrier at a bus stop and left him for dead in the Everglades with cigarette burns on his body, ice-pick holes in one eye, and a gunshot wound that left him blind in the other eye. Said Carrier, "I don't stare at my ... potential murderer. I stare at a man, very old, very alone and scared."
-- In November, ballroom dancing champion Michael Keith Withers was convicted in Perth, Australia, of the attempted 1994 murder of his wife/dance partner, Stacey Larson. He had said it was an accident, but the jury found that he had doused her with gasoline (set aside to use in a Whipper Snapper lawn trimmer he had borrowed from a neighbor) and set her afire, burning 70 percent of her body. Larson testified that she had not seen Withers since the incident, but under cross-examination finally admitted that she had slept with him 15 times since then, and another witness said Larson had bought Withers Christmas gifts in 1995, including his very own Whipper Snapper.
-- Results of a University of Minnesota study, announced in July and pertinent to the dispute between large animal feedlots and their neighbors who object to the smell, showed that home values nearer the feedlots were higher than those farther away. (No explanation was given by researchers, but some experts interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune said increased employment opportunities at feedlots had driven up demand for housing.)
-- A 1985 lease fixed the annual rent the U.S. pays for its Moscow embassy at 72,500 rubles. That was worth about $60,000 at the time, but now with nine years to go on the lease, the devaluation of the ruble has reduced the rent to the equivalent of $22.56 a year. In August, the Russian government stepped up its demands to renegotiate, but the U.S. continues to resist.
-- The New York Times reported in December on a Jordanian company that employs veiled Palestinian women stitching together women's exotic underpants for Victoria's Secret stores and catalogs. Adding to the irony is that the products, which in 1997 will also include brassieres, are sold with a "Made in Israel" label in order to take advantage of Israel's favorable trade status with the U.S.
-- In December, Frederick Lundy was to report for a court hearing in Akron, Ohio, in which he had been told: Plead not guilty to a parole violation and be released until trial, or plead guilty and go to jail immediately. Lundy pleaded guilty and was abruptly led away. That decision could be explained, perhaps, by Lundy's desire to get on with his punishment. What was not explained was why he had come into the courtroom under the circumstances with 41 rocks of crack cocaine in his pocket, which were discovered in a routine, pre-incarceration search.
-- In November at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, Anthony Valencia and Fitzgerald Vandever, both age 20, were arrested and accused of roaming the Intensive Care Unit, looking to steal patients' food off warming carts. (Said a hospital spokeswoman, "Actually, we've got some pretty good (food) down there.")
-- In December in London, the first fraud cases against the parent company of Hoover vacuum cleaners went to trial, four years after the company's disastrous giveaway campaign in which it promised two free air fares with all vacuum cleaners, which retailed for as little as about $165 in Great Britain. The company sold more than a half million units during the campaign and has so far paid out about $72 million in airline tickets to about a third of the purchasers.
In 1995 News of the Weird listed four cities in which entrepreneurs had begun businesses to fly couples around for an hour so that they could have sexual intercourse while airborne. In December 1996 several homeowners near Van Nuys (Calif.) Airport complained vociferously to the Los Angeles Daily News that one of the four, Mile High Adventures (whose flights now start at $429), flies so frequently and low that they are extremely irritating. Said one homeowner, "What people do in their own bedroom is their business. What they do over our heads is the community's business."
In January, disbarred Parsonburg, Md., lawyer Paul Bailey Taylor, 61, finally snapped after years of erratic behavior and barricaded himself inside a church, armed with a rifle, for five hours before police convinced him to surrender. When he was working, Taylor ran his law practice from the bathroom of his unheated rural trailer, where he had set up a desk over the toilet so that he could sit for long periods of time because of an intestinal disorder. A social worker once described the place as "clean," in that Taylor's 12 cats were neatly housed in cardboard boxes and his legal papers were filed in an orderly fashion in the bathtub.
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