Happy New Year: Once again, authorities in the Hillbrow district of Johannesburg, South Africa, were unable to stop the traditional midnight celebrations, in which residents of high-rises toss refrigerators, ovens, beds, trash cans and other furniture off their balconies, and police, wearing crash helmets, try to dodge the fusillade. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals pressured officials of Brasstown, N.C., out of the traditional New Year's Eve "possum drop" (lowering a caged opossum at the stroke of midnight, a la Times Square), causing the town to substitute a piece of roadkill. And Mr. Henry Earl was arrested in Lexington, Ky., on New Year's Eve for being drunk and disorderly; his 11th such arrest that month and number 804 since 1992.
Scientists on the cutting edge have recently developed cholesterol-free mice (by Quark Biotech), bisexual butterflies (by Butterfly Park in Singapore), and the "perfect" slice of buttered toast (by Arla Foods, Leeds, England). And a team of mathematicians using 200,000 computers found the largest "Mersenne prime" number ever, which is 6.3 million digits long; said a Michigan State grad student who worked on the project, "It's a neat accomplishment, but it really doesn't have any applicability." And New York University professor Steven Brams and colleagues developed a nuanced political-economic theory for efficiently dividing a cake among dessert lovers who insist on getting their fair shares.
In January, in Florida's first election using all touch-screen balloting (following the state's 2000 presidential fiasco), Ellyn Bogdanoff won a special election for a state House seat from Broward County by 12 votes out of about 10,000 cast, but the losing candidate was considering a challenge over the 134 "voters" who had gone into the booths but for whom no votes were registered. (By the way, in January in San Antonio, Texas, Chad Allen Tolleson was arrested for burglarizing a store by climbing in through a ventilation duct; however, he got stuck, and early-arriving employees who found him dangling from the ceiling now refer to him as "Hanging Chad.")
-- Over a two-month period in the American Indian Miskito community of northern Nicaragua, about 150 people contracted a hysteria whose symptoms included wandering naked in public, becoming severely violent, fighting imaginary enemies, and, later, lapsing into comalike states. Nicaraguan officials regard the illness, "grisi siknis," as culture-bound, with traditional healers more effective at treating it than medical doctors (in contrast to affluent societies' culture-bound illnesses, such as anorexia nervosa, which are often treated medically).
-- As an example of the stunning heritage of honesty of the Japanese, the Tokyo police's Lost and Found Center reported that the equivalent of US$23 million in cash found by strangers was turned in in 2002 (and almost $17 million eventually made it back to the rightful owners). Also, reported The New York Times in January, 330,000 umbrellas were turned in (but fewer than 1,000 were claimed).
-- Televangelist Joyce Meyer has risen from the pack of TV ministers (and from the ordinariness of her pre-preaching life) by her uninhibited pursuit of donations ($95 million in 2003), according to a December St. Louis Post-Dispatch profile. "Make your checks payable to Joyce Meyer Ministries," she shouted, "and 'million' is spelled m-i-l-l-i-o-n." Of once receiving $1 million in stocks from a worshipper, she said, "I didn't have that (gift) for five minutes and I said, 'OK, God, next I'll take $5 million." "Fear," she reminds her parishioners, as in their fear of making sacrifices in order to have more money to give her, "is the work of the devil."
-- The Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre is enjoying soaring income due to the Jewish mysticism's recent embrace by pop celebrities (e.g., Madonna, Britney Spears), according to a December New York Times report. Kabbalah bottled water (which has supposedly absorbed the energy of the Torah by osmosis from being in the same room with it and which "changes you on a molecular level," said a Centre employee) costs $3.50, and red string bracelets, which supposedly ward off negative spirits (which Jewish traditionalists say is an appalling oversimplification of their purpose) cost $26 to $36.
Ten months before election day, God has handicapped the 2004 presidential race as a "blowout" victory for President Bush, according to Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network program "700 Club" (January). And Connecticut's besieged governor, John Rowland, who is in deep trouble for having taken favors from contractors and then (as he later admitted) lying about it, said he can't resign because God spoke to him directly and ordered him to hang in and defend himself (December).
In Clearwater, Fla., Mary Denise Flowers was arrested for stealing a $20,000 ring from Littman Jewelers, with the key prosecution evidence emerging only several days later when Flowers, whose modus operandi was to swallow the ring at the scene of the crime, finally "passed" it at a local hospital, where it was mined from her feces (December). And a home at 3715 Euclid Avenue in San Diego was completely demolished when a pilot light ignited the 19 bug bombs the homeowner had set; one canister would have been plenty lethal for the small area, but 19 yielded a bomb 28 times more powerful than necessary (December).
Joy Wiggins (accidentally shot herself in the heart with a nail gun but was miraculously saved by doctors at Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital, Beaumont, Texas, October); Jed Bryant, 21 (accidentally shot by co-worker's nail gun, 3 1/2 inches into his skull, Rapid City, S.D., January); Roxanne Kirtley (absentmindedly stood up, forcing her head against a protruding nail that went 2 inches into her skull, Dallas, August); and a 34-year-old laborer (fell and landed seat-first on a rebar rod that, alas, impaled him through the buttocks, Toronto, Ontario, September).
While his dad was busy with a phone call 3 feet away, Timmy Novotny, 7, climbed through the 8-by-10-inch release door of a stuffed animal game machine at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Sheboygan, Wis., in January and couldn't get out. He spent an hour among the elephants and rabbits until firefighters dismantled the machine.
New York City (Port Authority) police officer Russell Bass pleaded guilty to having illegally videotaped an 11-year-old girl in a shower two years ago and blamed it on the stress he was under for helping with the 9-11 rescue at the World Trade Center. And North Little Rock, Ark., police arrested two alleged Internet-trolling pedophiles, one of whom had flown in from Arizona and the other all the way from South Korea, to meet teenyboppers, who were, of course, police officers running a sting.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)