-- The devastation of Kosovo this year by Serbian forces also disrupted another part of some Kosovars' lives: their extensive international crime network, which, according to a May report by the San Francisco Chronicle, "dominated" the narcotics business in Europe. The Kosovar network has now been supplanted by more vicious Albanian crime organizations, sometimes in conjunction with Sicilian Mafia families just across the Adriatic Sea, supported by a corrupt Albanian parliament. In March, the Albanian crime "boss of bosses" was arrested in Milan, Italy, en route as an Albanian diplomat to an International Crime Tribunal meeting in France.
-- In April, the Great Floridian Marker Program's deadline was extended again, to September, because it is far short of its millennial goal to officially recognize the 2,000 all-time greatest Floridians. Though the program has been in operation for more than a year, municipalities have nominated so few people (170) that program personnel may finally be realizing that there simply have never been 2,000 great Floridians.
In January, officials in Chelyabinsk, Russia, imposed a 5-ruble (about 20 cents) monthly tax on domestic dogs, based on their use of electricity and water. And in May, the owner of the Letostrui antiques shop in Sofia, Bulgaria, told reporters he hoped for a quick end to the bombing in neighboring Yugoslavia so that his missile debris (from NATO misfires that hit Bulgaria) would retain its high value and not be diluted by further debris from more NATO misfires. And a May Knight-Ridder News Service dispatch reported that Chile has covered for its lagging copper business with such dynamic exports as disposable diapers made from swamp moss and aftershave lotion made from snail slime.
-- More than 2,300 people were reported kidnapped in Colombia in 1998 in what are called "fishing expeditions," in which almost random groups of people are abducted until the captors sort out who is valuable and who isn't, according to a June Chicago Tribune story. Kidnapping is such a fact of life in Colombia that the format of one Bogota radio station is almost exclusively messages for kidnap victims from their relatives.
-- Artists wielded chainsaws in March in Samchok, South Korea, for the traditional anglers' Male Root Carving Competition. Celebratory penises up to 9 feet long are fashioned from pine logs along a waterfront to commemorate the time, 400 years ago, when a sailor died on a fishing trip and left a forlorn virgin on the shore. The phalluses are an attempt to appease her spirit and are dumped in the water after the event. Proclamation was led this year by the current mayor of Samchok, whose actual name is Kim Il Dong.
-- In India, 600,000 "untouchables" continue their miserable existence despite pledges by the government for the last 50 years to improve their lives, according to an April report in the London Observer. Members of the country's lowest caste empty dry latrines for a living, and anyone of a higher caste who even accidentally touches a so-called "scavenger" must undergo a ritual purification. A Delhi organization has liberated 40,000 scavengers over the past decade, mostly upgrading them to janitors.
-- Among the more controversial of the recent decrees of the Afghanistan fundamentalist Taliban government was to term a traditional Gurbuz tribe pastime as un-Islamic "gambling." In the game, two men tap eggs together, and the one whose egg breaks is the loser. In January, when Taliban soldiers tried to break up a game in the city of Khost, the tribesmen resisted, and in a standoff, five soldiers and seven tribesmen were killed.
-- In April, William Whitfield, 34, won about $185,000 (U.S.) from a Calgary, Alberta, judge for injuries he suffered when motorist David Calhoun smashed into his brand-new truck in 1990. Among the crash's consequences, according to medical testimony, was Whitfield's acquired desire, still unsubsided to this day despite electroshock therapy, to kill Calhoun in retaliation. According to the judge, Calhoun failed to testify at the trial out of fear of Whitfield, who has told his lawyer that he intends to kill Calhoun and then himself.
-- Ten U.S. representatives this decade gave absolute pledges not to serve more than eight years in office, and six are keeping their promises. Of the other four (including Republicans Scott McInnis of Colorado and George Nethercutt of Washington and Democrat Marty Meehan of Massachusetts), the best promise-voiding explanation was by Republican Tillie Fowler, elected from Jacksonville, Fla., in 1992 under the slogan "Eight (years) Is Enough." Fowler said in December 1998 that she might run in the year 2000 anyway, because "my problem was, I was too honest (when I made the pledge)."
-- Roy Hopkins, 32, speaking to a Toronto Star reporter in March about having recently stepped forward to admit to a 1995 murder for which another man had wrongly been serving a life sentence: "I may be a criminal, and I may be a thief, and I may be a robber, but I ain't a low-life."
-- Charles Ng, who was convicted in February in Orange County, Calif., of 11 torture-murders in a spree during 1984-85, claimed at his sentencing hearing in April that it was really his late buddy Leonard Lake who masterminded the killings and that he, Ng, had what a psychiatrist called a dependent personality disorder that made him too docile and compliant. Ng was so "docile" that he fled to Canada and skillfully fought extradition for six years after the killings and since 1991 has used numerous delay tactics, including firing several of his lawyers and suing three of them, to avoid going to trial.
In 1992 News of the Weird reported that a Cornell University researcher had developed an artificial dog (heated using cows' blood) to breed the 12,000 fleas a day he required for shipping to pharmaceutical companies to test flea and tick remedies. (The dog replaced 25 real dogs, which were probably quite relieved.) A June 1999 New York Times report finds that the now-semi-retired researcher, Dr. Jay Georgi, mainly sells the artificial dogs (whose efficiency is now as great as that of 104 real dogs), but does keep a small population of fleas on hand for small orders and emergencies. Dr. Georgi claims to retain his fascination with fleas: "I'm very fond of them."
In February, the mayor of Carsonville, Mich. (population 583), hanged himself in his tool shed three days before a contentious recall election, provoked by objections to his bill-paying lapses and violations of open-meetings laws. And in March in Tokyo, a 58-year-old executive, upset at Bridgestone Tire Co.'s large-scale (and for Japan, unusual) downsizing, which included a request that he accept early retirement, committed ritual hara-kiri with a 14-inch fish-slicing knife in a company conference room.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679, or Weird@compuserve.com.)