The Times of London reported in March that after an employee of the James Beauchamp law firm in Edgbaston killed himself recently, the firm billed his mother about $20,000 for the expense of settling his office work. Included in the bill were charges of about $2,300 for someone to go to his home to find out why he didn't show up at work (thus finding his body), about $500 for identifying the body for the coroner, and about $250 to go to his mother's home, knock on her door, and tell her that her son was dead. After unfavorable publicity, the firm withdrew the bill.
University of North Carolina law professor Barry Nakell, 53, a nationally known expert on death-penalty law, was fired in February after pleading guilty to shoplifting food and a book from a store in Chapel Hill. He had also been charged with shoplifting in 1991, but the charge was dismissed after he performed community service.
Government in Action
The Los Angeles Times reported in December that in the last two years nearly 2,000 criminals, "hundreds" of them violent or repeat offenders, have escaped from a sloppily run work-release program of the Los Angeles County sheriff's department. In most cases inmates were simply asked if they would like to join the program, with no examination of their criminal records.
In a September statement, Joseph Sniezek, an official of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Injury Prevention, lamented the serious injuries suffered by rodeo bull riders and suggested a solution might be to require the riders to wear helmets.
In November, as part of a growing trend to micromanage school curricula, the New York legislature required that all public school students age eight and above receive formal instruction in the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. That follows a requirement that students be given weekly instruction on how animals fit into "the economy of nature." New Jersey already requires instruction on the potato famine via an amendment to its law requiring instruction on the Holocaust.
In January Jakarta's police chief put seven cobras in a glass case in front of the main police station in an attempt to exercise better crowd control over opposition-party demonstrations. He said police would carry the cobras and wave them at the crowd, but it was not clear that officers wanted to handle the snakes in the first place or that the officers could get close enough to such large crowds for the snakes to strike.
The National Wilderness Institute charged in January that the Department of the Interior has failed to remove several plant and wildlife species such as the "Maguire daisy" from the government's endangered list despite the common knowledge that they do not exist. The government has resisted, saying it costs $37,000 to remove a name from the list, though it has added hundreds of new ones in recent years.
The European Union ruled in February that despite a tradition going back six centuries, wooden shoes manufactured in the Netherlands would no longer be permitted in the workplace unless they could meet the same standards as steel-toed safety shoes. Shoe manufacturers warn that Dutch clogs might soon disappear altogether. As one shoe executive said, "It would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower."
In December the Canadian defense department issued a 17-page set of guidelines for manufacturers competing for new contracts to supply underwear to the military. Among the requirements are that one pair must last for six months in the field and that the garment must be invisible to night-vision goggles so that a skivvy-clad soldier does not offer a target to snipers.
Seeds of Our Destruction
The Sunday Times of London reported in December that 300 tons of useless humanitarian aid from Western countries was sitting in Bosnian warehouses. Included in the shipments were birth control pills with an expiration date of 1986, weight reduction tablets from Britain, mouthwash from the United States, and chemical waste from Germany. According to the Times, some drivers have been killed transporting these supplies across war zones, and the German chemicals by law cannot be returned, thus creating a hazardous waste disposal problem for the Bosnians.
The Associated Press reported in February on Myassar Abul-Hawa, 52, the first female taxicab driver in Jordan. Her business is brisk, in part because some devout Muslim men want her to chauffeur their wives and daughters so they won't be alone with male drivers. As is sometimes the case in the United States, Abul-Hawa turned to taxi driving when she could not put to use her degree in English literature.
In the last six months, reports have surfaced that nearly bankrupt factories in the former Soviet Union have been forced to pay their workers in merchandise instead of cash. Examples are eggs paid to farm workers in Klyuchi, Siberia; old train cars given to railroad workers in Ukraine; salaries of from 33 to 42 brassieres a month by an underwear factory in Volgograd, Russia; and, from another Volgograd factory, rubber dildos, which, according to the magazine The Economist, are in surplus because the market has turned to vibrators.
Identical All the Way
In March in Lipovljani, Croatia, twin brothers Branko Uhiltil and Ivan Uhiltil, 57, committed suicide within hours of each other, apparently with no knowledge of each other's plans. And in January, Jim Hare, 65, driving his identical twin brother, Tom, near Bellefontaine, Ohio, lost control of his car, and in the ensuing crash, both were killed instantly.
Carrying on a 40-year tradition, Filipinos in the village of San Pedro Cutud recently conducted their Easter audience-participation crucifixion ceremonies with 12 volunteers nailed to crosses with sterilized 4-inch spikes in a show of absolution. As News of the Weird reported in 1990, for several years the Philippines' department of tourism was an official sponsor of the event.
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 Belschwender.