-- According to a Chicago Tribune report in September, some parents in Oak Park, Ill., are objecting to what they believe is an implicit anti-Americanism in a "Pledge to the Planet" that some Hatch Elementary School teachers require students to recite along with the "Pledge of Allegiance." (The controversial oath: "I pledge allegiance to the Earth, this unique blue-water planet, graced by life, our only home. I promise to respect all living things, and to protect to the best of my abilities all parts of our planet's environment, and to promote peace among the human family, with liberty and justice for all.")
-- Five people were indicted in Brenham, Texas, in August for a scheme to kidnap a pig, which had just lost a livestock show judging in Houston, and spirit it away to another show in San Angelo, Texas (where, by the way, it won first place, worth $4,000). The pig had belonged to one of the five people accused, but under the rules of the Houston contest, all losing pigs automatically became the property of a slaughterhouse.
In May, a judge in Red Deer, Alberta, sentenced Nelson Dicks, 32, to 21 days in jail for making a false claim on an unemployment insurance form. Jail time is not usually given on first offenses, but Dicks got in additional trouble by volunteering that life was tough for him and that he might be forced to apply for benefits again even though he was working, provoking the judge to ask him, point-blank, "So you'll lie again?" Responded Dicks, "You're damn right."
In August, Douglas Illingsworth, 83, had his driver's license suspended for a year by a court in Barnsley, South Yorks, England, after several incidents in which he tied up traffic by driving less than 15 mph on thoroughfares, including a stint at about 1 mph. And in Dale City, Va., in June, a 30-year-old motorist was beaten with a steering-wheel-locking device (which was apparently the closest available weapon) at a traffic light by a 33-year-old woman who was incensed that he had been driving too slowly.
In May, residents of Qiongshan village in Guangdong province, China, blew up a brand-new bridge on a main artery because they believed it had been constructed in violation of the principles of feng shui (spiritual beliefs about the arrangement of objects in a space). And New York feng shui authority Eliza Arekelian told The Independent of London that the July scaffolding collapse in Times Square was caused in part by the Concorde jet's nose on a nearby billboard, pointing the wrong way. And Newsweek reported in May that business was booming for New York City "smudger" Eleni Santoro, who charges real estate agents $200 an hour to erase the negative energy from a property.
Just before an April angling tournament in Appling, Ga., as Verdell James, 70, was tying his line, he sneezed his $300 false teeth into Thurmond Lake and had to fish them out before getting down to business. And in July, near Calgary, Alberta, a 19-year-old man being pursued by police after he hijacked a car dumped the car and hid out in the tall grass in a field but blew his cover when he couldn't suppress a sneeze.
-- Nissan's quality-assurance director at its plant in Sunderland, England, announced in July that the company had developed a substance based on the most destructive forms of bird poop they had found throughout the world, for the purpose of rigorously testing its automobiles' paint jobs. Added the director, John Burke, "It looks like the real thing: It's white, it's viscous and it smells horrible."
-- In July in the remote Australian town of Ravensthorpe, newly arrived family doctor Steve Hindley saved the life of 23-year-old football player Hayden McGlinn, who suffered a rapidly hemorrhaging head injury and would not have survived an airlift to surgery. Dr. Hindley cleaned off a rusting brace-and-bit drill from a woodshed and made a hole in McGlinn's temple to relieve the life-threatening pressure, which allowed time for him to be sent to a hospital in Perth.
-- Physicist Juan Atanasio Carrasco announced in August in Guijuelo, Spain, that he was using CAT scan technology to determine how salt makes its way through delicate Iberian hams in the process known as curing, in order to improve the hams' quality and minimize spoilage.
-- Mrs. Xian's Delight: In March, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that surgeons at a military hospital in Chongqing had successfully removed two of the three tongues of farmer Xian Shihua, 32, enabling him to eat and speak comfortably for the first time in 20 years. His birth tongue, 13 inches long, remains; the other two (about 3 inches each) had grown during adolescence.
News of the Weird reported that in January 1998, the executor of the estate of the late Larry Lee Hillblom (founder of the DHL international courier service) agreed to pay out $90 million to four Pacific Islands teen-agers if they could prove paternity by Hillblom's DNA. At the time, proof seemed imminent, but shortly afterward, the children's lawyers reported that not only had all of Hillblom's belongings disappeared from his house in Northern Mariana Islands but that the house had been sanitized to such a degree that not even a single hair could be found. Also, the site of Hillblom's 1995 plane crash was devoid of even a single speck of blood. In June, a former Hillblom associate was identified as a suspect in the movie-plot-like cleaning.
In September at a bar in Porto Hel, Greece, British vacationer Daniel Littlewood, 23, died showing off to a female companion that he was impervious to pain; he had instructed her to place a Swiss Army knife against his abdomen while he leaned into it with great force, but he miscalculated. And in August, Ivory Coast army Col. Pascal Gbah, 49, shot himself to death while testing a supposedly "magic" belt that the manufacturer (Gbah's cousin) said would protect the user from gunfire.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)