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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Earlier this week Fortune magazine reported that since 1999 officers and directors at 1,035 troubled companies have sold an estimated $66 billion of their own stock, in each case cashing in before the stock's price fell more than 75 percent from its bull-market peak. While the companies' ordinary investors and employees were suffering devastating losses to their portfolios and retirement plans, shrewd executives grew rich: total insider sales at AOL Time Warner were $1.79 billion; at Enron, $994 million; and at Charles Schwab, $951 million.

One proposal to remedy the "social discontent" of Iranian men, many of whom are postponing marriage because they can't afford to raise families, has been to allow a form of prostitution that agrees with Islamic law: the men would enter into temporary marriages (lasting only a few hours) with the prostitutes, who would live in government-run brothels called "chastity houses." About 300,000 prostitutes are already active in Iran, and the number is rising; according to an August dispatch from Reuters, at least one prominent cleric supports the chastity-house proposal.

Chutzpah!

In San Antonio in August, software consultant David Williamson replied to a summons for jury duty by sending the judge an invoice for $16,800: the court had asked him to be ready to serve anytime during the month, so Williamson figured the bill at his usual rate of $100 an hour for 21 full business days. For his trouble he was ordered to attend a contempt hearing--and then received a second summons for jury duty (he wasn't selected).

In June inmate Kenneth Bianchi (better known as the "Hillside Strangler," convicted of killing seven women in California and Washington in the late 70s) filed a claim against Whatcom County, Washington, demanding up to $100 a day in lost wages for the 23 years he's been imprisoned, plus punitive damages and an award for emotional distress; he alleges that prosecutors withheld evidence at his trial, which caused him to overestimate the strength of the case against him and plead guilty.

In Los Angeles in May, Matthew E. Hooker, 30, filed a $200 million defamation lawsuit against Nicole Kidman and more than 80 other individuals and media outlets because they'd referred to him as Kidman's "stalker" (a judge recently ordered Hooker to stay at least 250 yards from the actress and her children for three years). Hooker told reporters that the "stalker" label was likely to hurt his 2004 presidential campaign.

Inexplicable

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, in July, David Dauphinee, 52, and his brother Daniel, 51, both retired members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were sentenced to two months in jail for bombarding local police officers with oranges, apples, and onions from a 19th-floor balcony; the officers were investigating an unrelated break-in on the ground floor. The brothers had tried to pin the assault on David's girlfriend, Diane Bartlett, who at trial referred to the men as "Dumb and Dumber."

Former real estate lawyer Mitchell Rothken, 44, is serving a three-to-nine-year prison sentence in connection with an embezzlement scheme he told a judge he concocted to finance his courtship of stripper Kymberly Barbieri. According to an August article in New York magazine, Rothken gave Barbieri over $1 million in gifts--including a house--but the pair never consummated their secret four-year relationship; when the affair became public at Rothken's trial, it cost him his 21-year marriage and custody of his three sons.

Our Civilization in Decline

In 1999 police in Tulia, Texas, a town of about 5,000, arrested 46 people for alleged drug trafficking, 40 of them black (more than 10 percent of the town's black population). Nineteen were eventually imprisoned, despite the fact that police found no drugs, no weapons, and no money; most were convicted based on the uncorroborated testimony of undercover officer Tom Coleman--who, according to a July story in the New York Times, routinely refers to blacks as "niggers," kept no detailed records (he claims he sometimes wrote notes on his leg), and swore he'd bought drugs from people who later proved they'd been out of town or at work at the time. An impoverished hog farmer is serving 90 years, and one of the few local whites rounded up and convicted received a 300-year sentence.

In the Last Month

In Minneapolis a woman being questioned by police fatally shot an officer who had permitted her a bathroom break, using a gun she'd concealed between her buttocks....In El Paso, Texas, an ex-cop awaiting trial for allegedly raping his stepdaughter died of an aneurysm in a video booth at an adult bookstore; his pants were around his ankles, and he was in the company of another stepdaughter....And in Ossipee, New Hampshire, a woman who'd had her house built next to a golf course fairway filed a lawsuit against the course because balls keep landing on her property.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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