-- Punch-Drunk From Litigation: The Brown & Williamson Tobacco company recently added another quixotic 800-number telephone message, this time featuring a male chorus serenading callers with "Oooh, the tobacco plant is a lovely plant / Its leaves so broad and green / But you shouldn't think about the tobacco plant / If you're still a teen." A 1999 message featured a sexy male voice intoning, "Brown & Williamson Tobacco is in love. We're a giant corporation, and you make us feel like a little kitten." "Thank you, lover."
At a January hearing in LaCrosse, Wis., child-molester Ellef J. Ellefson, 95, was ordered to remain confined beyond his sentence because experts said he was still incorrigible. Mr. Deo Dubbs, 88, was sentenced to probation-only in April in Sarasota, Fla., for buying crack cocaine, which he said gives him "pep." In April, first-time arrestee Ruth A. Goelz, 81, was charged in Hollywood, Fla., with running a $200,000 Ponzi scheme. Retiree Charles John Swanson, 71, was arrested in January for two armed bank robberies, allegedly committed because he was having trouble affording his rent in Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Camel Mania: A January New York Times report from Selcuk, Turkey, described the massively popular sport of camel-fighting (in which one-ton camels in mating season simply push against each other until one falls over), which brings fame to the winning owner. And in a March New York Times profile, well-to-do Istanbul builder Ethem Erkoc revealed that he has constructed 10 swimming pools for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who permits his favorite camels to frolic in them.
-- Henk Otte, 43, lives most of the year as an unemployed construction worker in an Amsterdam, Netherlands, housing project, but he is also the chief of about 40 villages (100,000 people) in a region of Ghana about 45 miles from the capital of Accra. According to a January Associated Press dispatch, Otte was visiting with his Ghanan-born wife in 1995 when suddenly natives concluded he was their reincarnated king. At that time, Otte's reaction was that the villagers were "insane," but now says that being king "is my destiny."
-- The Hanoi (Vietnam) Institute of Social Sciences reported in February that many men, fearful toward the end of the lunar new year, had apparently turned to sex with pregnant prostitutes as a way of releasing evil spirits.
-- Male Stereotypes Come to Life: In January, Quebec researcher Jim Pfaus told the Montreal Gazette that the rat is the "ultimate example" of the male mammal always on the lookout to copulate with new females and that when given alcohol, male rats notoriously re-attempt sex with females who had just rejected them. And schoolbus driver Alexandre Belvu, 31, was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., in January for taking three kids on a ride that lasted eight hours because he couldn't find their school and apparently would not stop to ask directions.
-- Unfair Ethnic Stereotypes Come to Life: In March, police chasing an escaped circus tiger in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland, accidentally shot and killed the veterinarian trying to tranquilize it. And according to a February New York Times story, the textile company Francital has developed a fabric specially treated to absorb perspiration and body odors for people who can't bathe for up to 30 days at a time; the company is headquartered in France.
-- Jose Chavarria, 37, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Adel, Iowa, in February. He had killed his friend Jorge Villalobos only minutes after lamenting to friends that a psychic had told him that Villalobos was planning to kill him first.
Sang Lee, the owner of a custom slaughterhouse near Minneapolis-St. Paul that serves the Hmong-American community (and speaking to a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter in January concerning complaints about heavy slaughterhouse traffic): "We (Hmongs, natives of Laos and Thailand) have a complex culture, and we have to sacrifice animals a lot."
In February, an 8-year-old boy, coming to his mother's aid, stabbed her abusive boyfriend to death in Coker Creek, Tenn. And in an Islamic public execution in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in February, a 10-year-old boy, now the eldest male in the family, took a rifle and did the honors to the man who had killed his father. And in Dover Township, N.J., in March, a 10-year-old boy argued with his father over missing chocolate icing and then, when the father sarcastically suggested the kid just take a knife and kill him, the kid complied.
In the five years since Bill Davis made News of the Weird by settling his 20-year dispute with Rhode Island over the pile of 10 million used tires (he says it's 30 million) on his property in Smithfield, contractors have gradually removed 4 million tires, at 79 cents each, and sold them as fuel. Federal and state officials still believe that a fire on the land would cause catastrophic environmental damage to Narragansett Bay, in that each melted tire would release about a quart and a half of oil. (A similar fire in Westley, Calif., in September burned for a month.)
Ill-Conceived Crimes: In Biloxi, Miss., in January, Ronald Dean Cherry, 52, was arrested after he called the Treasure Bay Casino and threatened to start shooting their customers unless the company delivered $100,000 within two hours to his home (address helpfully provided by Cherry). And Ronald Keith Graham, 45, was arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, in February and charged with burglary; according to police, he had stolen a TV set but rather than try to sell it to one of Des Moines' other 200,000 residents, he invited its former owners to his apartment, where he offered to sell it back to them for $150 and even suggested an easy payment plan.
A 26-year-old woman started an agency to say prayers for people too busy to say their own (at $1.50 a day and up) (Milan, Italy). A woman was convicted of arranging for her lover to get a penile implant using her estranged husband's health insurance (New York City). A 20-year-old, brand-new mother was arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; she had allegedly dealt $650 worth of cocaine from her room in the maternity ward. An Israeli rabbinical council authorized three tons of bread for starving Ethiopians but, because it was Passover week, was forced to send only religiously correct but notoriously hard-to-digest unleavened bread. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that a 20-cent tax increase on a six-pack of beer would reduce gonorrhea in young adults by 9 percent.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)