Global terrorism, war in two countries, budget deficits as far as the eye can see, an emerging national battle on gay marriage, the most bitter partisan political divisions in a generation, but you already know all that. Here is what's really important: the most disturbing, yet underreported news of the year.
Transsexual Eye for the Straight Guy
Among the fashions introduced at the seasonal shows in Milan, Italy, was British designer Vivienne Westwood's "Man" collection, featuring for-men items with frilly cuffs and bonnetlike scarves, along with tight, knit sweater sets and jumpers worn over male models' fake breasts. Westwood (a pioneer of punk clothing in the 1970s) said she was motivated by "how men are so attached to the breast of their mother, a symbol of eternal warmth."
A Kansas City, Kan., judge granted Wesley Fitzpatrick a temporary restraining order against a female who he said was stalking him (making him "scared, depressed and in fear for my freedom"). The order was rescinded when the judge found out that the "stalker" was actually Fitzpatrick's parole officer (who said Fitzpatrick had been missing meetings).
-- Boston City Councilman Felix Arroyo announced in January that he was going on a hunger strike to protest U.S. war threats toward Iraq. At first, he said he would consume only liquids, but then limited the strike to daylight hours, and, later still, restricted his hardship regimen to only the second and fourth Fridays of each month.
-- North Korea's official news agency accused Japan of breaking a promise to return five people to North Korea. The five are Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 but released to see their families in October 2002. North Korea's position is that they were sent home only temporarily and must be returned.
The Lawrence, Mass., superintendent of schools, Wilfredo T. Laboy, failed for the third time the basic English proficiency test required of all teachers in the state (a test which, after one of the failures, he had called "stupid"). He passed on the fourth try.
Longmeadow, Mass., School Committee Chair Mary Ryan-Kusiak abruptly adjourned the Aug. 25 meeting because committee member Laura J. Bertelli refused to sit in her assigned seat, and Ryan-Kusiak said she'd cancel the next meeting, too, if Bertelli didn't sit where she was told.
-- Gary Lee Owens, 42, was arrested in Stilwell, Kan., even though police weren't even after him when they knocked on his door. They had a tip that two fugitives were hiding at that address, and since Owens knew nothing about that, he matter-of-factly gave them permission to search the house, but then added the restriction "everywhere but the garage." That was good enough for a judge to grant a search warrant, and in the garage, police found the remains of a suspected methamphetamine lab.
-- Zachary G. Holloway, 20, and a pal were arrested in Springfield, Ill., and charged with breaking into one car (and stealing a motorcycle helmet) and attempting to break into another. To get into the second, locked car, Holloway put on the helmet, stood back and charged into it, head-butting a window. Unsuccessfully. Twice.
"The Vagina Monologues" was performed at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, by author Eve Ensler and a troupe of local actresses (bundled in their traditional clothing) to an audience of 150, who apparently loved it. "If (the play) can happen here, it can happen anywhere," said Ms. Hibaaq Osman, a Somali Muslim activist, who playfully renamed the capital city "Vaginabad." "Having these Pakistani women talking about vibrators (is) what it's all about."
-- In a settlement between Sears and customers with improperly done wheel balancing, lawyers got $2.45 million, and customers got $2.50 a tire.
-- In a $3.7 million settlement between televangelist Jim Bakker's Praise The Lord Ministries and 165,000 defrauded Christians, lawyers got $2.5 million, and each victim got $6.54.
-- In a settlement of price-fixing charges against cosmetics manufacturers and retailers, lawyers got $24 million, and each customer got a free cosmetic.
Two American Legion posts and two other veterans' groups in Pleasanton, Calif., sponsored a class on dowsing to consider whether domestic terrorists could be identified by pointing sticks at suspicious people to see if the sticks move. Said one of the leaders, "You can't wait for the FBI and police to come up with solutions when you have the bad guys living among us."
In one of the first expressions of religious freedom just days after the statue of Saddam Hussein fell in Baghdad, Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims in Karbala celebrated the long-suppressed holy martyrs' day of Shaoura by the traditional method of slashing their heads open and marching through the streets with their clothes soaked in blood.
Michael Christopher Harris, 24, was arrested after he tried to pass a $200 bill emblazoned with a photo of George W. Bush at a convenience store in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., but then police found out that before that, he had gotten a cashier at a local Food Lion to actually accept one and give him back change.
-- To accommodate the many activists who wished to be arrested protesting a visit by President Bush to Santa Fe, N.M., in May, police chief Beverly Lennen set up a system at the jail for reserving booking time in advance.
-- Wiltshire County (England) police hand-delivered letters to 22 persistent criminals in January asking them, for the New Year, to please stop breaking the law.
China's Yunnan province rolled out a fleet of 18 "mobile execution vehicles" to travel the countryside so that capital punishment (via lethal injection) could be imposed immediately upon the rendering of a guilty verdict.
The prime minister of Latvia, Einars Repse, announced the formation of an "anti-absurdity" bureau to deal with excessive government "foolishness" and the "laziness" of civil servants.
Milwaukee police officer Robert Henry was fired in 2002 for beating up a suspect in an incident caught on videotape. He was reinstated on appeal, but then immediately filed for disability, citing the work-related stress of being fired for beating up a suspect. This year, Henry (who had four years' service) was granted permanent disability ($23,000 immediately, then $39,000 a year for 29 years, after which he gets the standard pension).
West Point, Ky., hosted 12,000 visitors for the weekend-long Knob Creek Gun Range Machine Gun Shoot (with a separate competition for flame throwers). The featured attraction was "The Line," where a limit of 60 people (the waiting list is 10 years long) get to fire their machine guns into a field of abandoned cars and boats, and during which a shooter might run through $10,000 worth of ammunition. Among the shoot's champions was Samantha Sawyer, 16, the top women's submachine gunner for the last four years. One man told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he met his wife at a previous shoot, knowing that "if she could accept flame-throwing as a hobby, she could accept anything." Said another: "This is one of those times when you know this (the United States) is the greatest place on Earth."
Between June and August, high school dropout Jonathan Harris acted as his own lawyer in three Philadelphia felony cases and won them all, including a murder trial that could have sent him to death row. He had two more charges pending and was overheard taunting the prosecutor about taking him on again.
Hurricane Isabel roared through Virginia Beach, Va., in September, inflicting serious property damage despite public calls for prayer to keep it away by local resident Pat Robertson, whose Christian Broadcasting Network is headquartered there. (In 1998, Robertson condemned the city of Orlando, Fla., for sponsoring the Gay Days festival, and warned the city that God could tear it up during hurricane season for promoting homosexuality. Instead, the first hurricane to make landfall in 1998, Bonnie, scored a direct hit on Virginia Beach.)
Arrested for murder in 2003: Randy Wayne Richards (Courtenay, British Columbia), Curtis Wayne Pope (Fort Worth, Texas), Joseph Wayne Cook (Wilmington, N.C.), Michael Wayne Sears (Charlottesville, Va.), Dale Wayne Eaton (Denver), Ricky Wayne Brown (Manassas, Va.), Dennis Wayne Bryant (Richmond, Va.). Awaiting trial for murder (pending competency exam): Elvis Wayne Botley (Palm Springs, Calif.). Committed suicide while a murder suspect: Rodger Wayne Chastain (San Francisco). Sentenced for murder: Michael Wayne Fisher (Chester County, Pennsylvania). Appeal rejected: convicted murderer Barry Wayne Riley (Vancouver, British Columbia). Executed for murder: Allen Wayne Jenecka (Huntsville, Texas), Bobby Wayne Swisher (Jarrett, Va.). And (Ouch!) acquitted of murder: David Wayne McQuater (Metter, Georgia).
-- The Pentagon, claiming an exception to the law, rejected a Freedom of Information Act request by a reporter to see an internal training video. The video was the 22-minute "Freedom of Information Act/The People's Right to Know," for teaching Pentagon employees how to administer the act.
-- A CIA-sponsored panel of scientists concluded that, despite the risks of potential terrorist uses of research, openness in scientific study was absolutely crucial. Three months later, the agency suppressed the panel's work as classified.
-- In March, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia accepted an award by the Cleveland City Club for his contributions to freedom of speech, which he accepted at a Club meeting that, at his request, was closed to television and radio.
Dr. Yogendra Shah of Granite City, Ill., was accused by a state regulatory board of performing an abortion on a woman who was not pregnant. She thought she was, but Dr. Shah, who had failed to test for pregnancy beforehand, found no fetal tissue during the procedure.
Plymouth (England) University, with a small Arts Council grant, could not quite test whether an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters could produce the works of Shakespeare, but did see what six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys would do on a computer over a four-week period. They produced about five pages of text among them, mostly consisting of the letter S. According to lead professor Geoff Cox, they spent a lot of time sitting on the keyboard.
Six candidates for city offices in Charleston, W.Va., misspelled their party affiliations in their official filing forms ("Democart," "Democrate," "Repbulican" and "Repucican").
Two Massachusetts law firms sued the state over the 1998 tobacco settlement, claiming that the $775 million in fees they were awarded by an arbitration panel was not enough. The firms say they are due $1.3 billion more under their original contract, although other law firms in the 46-state settlement so far have accepted the arbitrators' awards. A Massachusetts official said a $775 million fee works out to about $6,300 per lawyer-hour and a $2.075 billion fee to about $17,000 per lawyer-hour.
Dining-room workers at the U.N. staged a wildcat strike at lunchtime on May 2, causing the building's restaurants to be locked down, but a man whom Time magazine called a "high-ranking U.N. official" ordered them unlocked so that staff members could eat (perhaps to pay for food on the honor system). What ensued, according to Time, was "Baghdad-style (looting) chaos," in which staff members ran wild, stripping the cafeterias and snack bars bare not only of food, but of liquor and silverware, none of it paid for, including bar drinks taken by "some well-known diplomats."
Reserve defensive back Charlotte Chambers, who plays for the Orlando Starz of the Independent Women's (tackle) Football League, and who is 70 years old, was profiled by several publications. "You better hit me (first), because I'm laying you out," the 5-foot-4, 140-pound grandmother gave as her mantra. Said the Starz chief executive: "Last year, I thought I should tell the other teams to go easy and not hit her too hard. But now I'm afraid she's going to hurt somebody."
Marion, Ohio, inmate Willie Chapman got advance permission to delay his scheduled parole by one day until Aug. 12 so he could attend a prison meeting of Promise Keepers. Chapman's inspirational decision made the newspapers, inadvertently alerting his manslaughter victim's family, who complained to the Ohio Parole Board that Chapman should not be released at all. Consequently, the board reconsidered the parole and delayed it 991 days, until May 1, 2006.
Although India and Pakistan backed off of their potentially nuclear confrontation over Kashmir, computer hackers from both countries stepped up their wars against each other's government Web sites and networks. Retaliating against Pakistani electronic shenanigans that accompanied the attack on India's parliament in 2001, Indian hackers unleashed the annihilating Yaha virus, which was answered by a massive flood of Pakistani attacks (at about seven times the Indian attack rate), which provoked Indian hackers to consider a stepped-up version of Yaha, aimed at shutting down Pakistan's government computers altogether.
-- Largo, Fla., private school principal Dick Baker, 52, resigned in September after revelations by the St. Petersburg Times that he took some of his middle-school girls (his "princesses") on dozens of overnighters to Disney World, during which he supplied them with Disney-themed costumes and swimsuits and wore his own Disney pajamas. Baker's friends and neighbors, and all the princesses, and most parents, supported him, but enough other people were puzzled by his obsession to force his resignation.
-- An LA Weekly writer hung out with Benji Breitbart, 20, Doug Marsh, and several other "Disneyana enthusiasts," who spend hours nearly every single day at Disneyland; have almost total recall of the park's history and culture; rabidly amass memorabilia; and preach with intensity on which aspects of the park Walt Disney would not have allowed to be established. They habitually wear Disney-themed clothes and use the pronoun "we" as if the park were theirs. Why, Breitbart was asked, was Disney such a central force in his life? "I tried to figure that out. I just ended up with no answers."
The Disneyana enthusiasts were dismissive of the obsessives of Star Trek, characterizing them as "devoted to some stupid pop-culture fad," according to Marsh. That might or might not describe Tony Alleyne, 50, who placed his small Leicestershire, England, apartment on the market for the equivalent of US$1.7 million, an extravagant price for the neighborhood but realistic, he believes, because he has spent nearly 10 years crafting the premises as a finely detailed model of the starship Enterprise. Included are a life-size transporter control, a gigantic warp core drive, voice-activated lighting and security, and an infinity mirror. Alleyne is divorced but insisted that he started the project after, not before, his wife walked out on him.
A 36-year-old man from Arcadia, Fla., checked himself into a counseling clinic after being identified as the one who had been pretending in public to be choking on food and persuading women to grasp him in the Heimlich maneuver, after which he would hug them lavishly and attempt clumsily to develop a relationship. A sheriff's spokesman in Charlotte County said the man probably had done nothing illegal. (Novelist Chuck Palahniuk, author of "Fight Club," recently published "Choke," whose storyline roughly matches the man's actions, but apparently some Florida incidents predated the book's publication.)
A 37-year-old female inmate died at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Saskatchewan, Canada, from a toxic reaction to methadone that she had consumed by drinking the vomit of a fellow inmate who was on a methadone maintenance program. A coroner's inquest in March heard witness after witness describe inmates' practice of trading their methadone-laced vomit for various inmate favors, and the two inmates who admitted vomiting for the victim have since been additionally sentenced for drug trafficking.
Elected as sheriff of Aiken County, South Carolina, was a fellow named Mike Hunt, who prefers the name Mike and not Michael, and whose campaign slogan was "Mike Hunt/Accessible For You."
Investigatory work by a scorned woman turned up more than 50 others who were victims of the same man, 29-year veteran U.S. Army Col. Kassem Saleh (most recently stationed in Afghanistan), who struck up e-mail romances with the women and wrote "the most intoxicating love letters" one woman had ever read while assuring her (while also assuring others) that they would soon marry. The 5-foot-10 Saleh created at least one skeptical woman, though: Saleh had claimed to be 6-foot-5, but when a first-meeting date with the woman neared, he wrote that he had shrunk about 5 inches due to repeated parachute jumps. Saleh issued a public apology to the women after The New York Times outed him.
Tyrone Henry, 30, ran a scheme in which female college students were paid $10 to "test" a facial cream that turned out to be Henry's semen. The crime was so unorthodox that he could only be charged with fraud, but he was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, he is still aggressively proclaiming that he violated no law. Argues Henry: The women were adults; there was no sexual contact; they were paid; Henry did not "expose" himself because the girls were blindfolded. Henry said he was just pursuing "the American dream" with his Web site selling men photos of women's semen-adorned faces.
The Norwegian Newspaper VG's series on odd summer jobs included that of teenager Svein Tore Hauge, who, armed with a shovel and a container, works at Saerheim Plant Research, following cattle around and catching their excreta before it can hit the ground. Because the work-product is used for scientific study, it must he "pristine," free of grass, dirt, foreign bacteria, etc. Sometimes, it's easy, he said, but, "Sometimes it just sprays in all directions."
Females in tribes in Kenya and other African nations are finally rebelling at the ancient custom of requiring a newly widowed woman to pay to have sex with the village's "cleanser" to purify her soul sufficiently to be allowed to attend her husband's funeral. Said one particularly vulgar, besotted cleanser in Gangre, "It's not bad for me since I get to be with the beautiful ladies. The women like it because who else would be with them. They can't stay alone with the spirits. They need me." Cleansers are believed to be major HIV conveyers since a condom would not allow the spirits to pass.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)