In December mobs beat seven men to death in Accra, Ghana, and injured others in Tema after it was rumored that the men had the power to make others' genitals disappear. Police said the rumors were spread by a band of criminals who exploited an ancient fear of penis-shrinking sorcery so that crowds of hysterical men would gather, making it easier to pick-pocket wallets.
Seeds of Our Destruction
According to a January report in the New York Times, Afghanistan's economy is so bankrupt under the Taliban movement that people have begun to raid cemeteries for human bones. After the skulls are broken up, the bones are passed off to dealers in Pakistan as animal bones to be used for cooking oil, soap, chicken feed, and buttons.
Recent inappropriate nudity: In September dozens of schoolteachers from the state of Bihar stripped in front of the Indian parliament to protest low wages. In October the Washington Post published a Defense Intelligence Agency memo in which a Liberian leader was referred to as "General 'Butt Naked.'" Apparently the leader has a "propensity for fighting naked" that he "probably believes terrorizes the enemy and brings good luck." And in January in Meaux, France, high school philosophy teacher Bernard Defrance was suspended for playing a game in which he removes an article of clothing each time a student stumps him with a riddle.
In a July soccer game in Tripoli, Libya, a team sponsored by the eldest son of Moammar Gadhafi received a questionable call and began beating the referee and the other team. After spectators jeered, Gadhafi and his bodyguards opened fire, prompting some spectators to shoot back. The death toll was somewhere between 8 and 50, causing Gadhafi to declare a period of mourning, the hallmark of which was that Libyan TV was to be in black and white only.
In December the entire 300-man paramilitary police force of the 83-island South Pacific nation of Vanuatu was arrested for kidnapping a visiting Australian official in order to increase its leverage in an overtime-pay dispute with the government. The force had been suspended in November for kidnapping Vanuatu's deputy prime minister for the same purpose, and in October several members of the force had kidnapped Vanuatu's president and held him for almost a day before releasing him because of the populace's seeming indifference.
A July Wall Street Journal story reported that the city jail in the Seattle suburb of Kent does a brisk business charging petty criminals $64 a day to serve their sentences of up to 40 days in comfortable settings. Reservations are recommended, and the policy is cash only.
Bottom of the Gene Pool
In October in Massapequa Park, New York, four men, ages 19 to 21, intending to follow a recipe in the Underground Steroid Handbook, failed to wait until the Drano-like concoction had reached a satisfactory pH level to make it milder. The four were hospitalized with internal burns, and the concoction also burned rescuing police officers when the four men vomited on them.
In November in Santa Maria, Texas, Luis Martinez Jr., 25, was allegedly stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle by his uncle after Martinez refused to share his bag of Fritos. In October a 20-year-old man was hospitalized in Guthrie, Oklahoma, after encouraging his friend, Jason Heck, to kill a millipede with a .22-caliber rifle; after two ricochets Heck's bullet hit the man above his right eye, fracturing his skull.
In December Phillip Johnson, 32, was hospitalized in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, with a gunshot wound above his left nipple. According to paramedics, Johnson shot himself because he wanted to see what it felt like.
I Don't Think So
In August David S. Peterson filed a lawsuit against New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for racketeering. Apparently Peterson's girlfriend had taken money he had given her to buy him clothes and lost it gambling at an Indian tribal casino. Peterson said that because Johnson was a big supporter of the Indian gaming industry, the loss was his fault.
No Longer Weird
Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but that now occur with such frequency they must be retired from circulation: (15) the burglar with poor planning skills who attempts to enter a building after hours through a chimney or vent and gets stuck, as Baltimore police say Dwayne Terry, 33, did at a convenience store on Christmas morning. And (16) the thousands of times a year (about 50 in the last year in Fremont, California, alone) that trial-bound defendants and others place their belongings on courthouse X-ray machines only to have their illegal drugs detected.
Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.