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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

The New York Post reported in June that the state of New York has provided about 25 free organ-transplant operations, costing taxpayers about $1 million, to illegal aliens in the 18 months since Governor Pataki promised to end the practice. State officials told the Post they knew of "dozens" of cases over the years in which foreigners flew into the city, applied for Medicaid, received expensive surgery (which can include sex changes), and then flew home.

In July a jury in Saint Paul, Minnesota, acquitted Gerald and Judy Dick and their adult daughter of all but one of the shoplifting counts brought against them. Police had charged the Dicks with engaging the services of a personal shoplifter to steal expensive items from Dayton's department store for them, and had even caught Mrs. Dick on audiotape saying, "You caught us red-handed." However, the allegedly stolen items were not admitted into evidence because there was no search warrant, and the tape of the sting was revealed to have been doctored. Mrs. Dick was convicted on one count of attempting to receive stolen goods.

Life imitates a Simon and Garfunkel song: In May a 26-year-old man in Madison, Wisconsin, phoned 911 to report that upon returning from the bathroom in the middle of the night, he discovered a stranger wearing only boxer shorts sleeping in his bed. The stranger turned out to be a very intoxicated 22-year-old student from De Pere, Wisconsin.

Recent Protests

In December workers at a Sanyo Universal Electric company plant in Bangkok burned down the company's eight-story office building, factory, and warehouse. The workers were upset that they would receive a bonus of only three months' wages, which is generous by Thai standards but still only about half of the previous year's bonus.

In June three members of Greenpeace set up a 12-by-6-foot survival station atop a narrow, barren, 65-foot-high rock called Rockall, 290 miles off the coast of Scotland, and vowed to remain there until the British government stops oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. Waves often reach heights of 90 feet or more in area storms.

Items recently thrown in protest: In February a live pig was thrown into the office of the Massachusetts Bar Association in Boston to protest the legal profession; a man protesting the thinning of the bison herd tossed rotting bison entrails at Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman in March in Gardiner, Montana; about $4,000 in currency was thrown in front of city hall in Seoul, South Korea, in May by a man protesting corrupt politicians; and in June bags of excrement and rocks were hurled by ultra-Orthodox Jews at other Jews in Jerusalem to protest men and women praying together.

Cultural Diversity

A January New York Times story reported on the Ghanaian practice of giving a virgin daughter to a priest in order to atone for some sin of the girl's family. The story cited the example of a rapist who gave his 12-year-old daughter, the product of his crime, to the local priest as a slave (sexual and otherwise) to appease spirits who would otherwise torment the rapist and his family. If a transgression is severe, a family must provide girls for several generations.

In April Premier Lien Chan of Taiwan ordered a crackdown on the national craze of betel-nut chewing, which he said was responsible for mouth cancer, slimy sidewalks, and immorality, in that they are mostly sold by young, provocatively dressed women at sidewalk stands. The betel nut is reportedly a mild stimulant and is slightly more expensive than a cigarette.

The Washington Post reported in May that some tribes in Yemen routinely kidnap tourists and hold them for days, regaling them with propaganda, and ultimately offer them to the government in exchange for political concessions. Said the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, "Kidnapping is part of tourism. [The] tourist will end up learning about the customs of the tribes, as well as their good hospitality."

A May report in the Jakarta Post described the pilgrimage of ill people to the home of Cecilia Subini and her husband Florentinus Suparmo in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to be licked and nuzzled by their bull Joko Andhini. Thousands believe in the power of Joko's saliva and urine (which some rub on their skin and others drink) to cure such maladies as incontinence, arthritis, strokes, rashes, diabetes, and cancer. And in June an Associated Press dispatch from Hyderabad, India, touted the success of a sardine-and-herb asthma treatment that hundreds of thousands of people ingest on the one astrologically auspicious day of the year for swallowing the fish.

In January, despite increasing worldwide condemnation of the practice of female circumcision in certain areas of Africa, an organization in Freetown, Sierra Leone, called the Bondo Society--described in a Reuters news report as a "powerful women's secret society"--arranged for about 600 girls in a labor camp to undergo unanesthetized clitoral removals.

Least Competent Criminals

According to New York City police in May, Sidonia Williams tried to open a Lord & Taylor charge account by flashing a million-dollar bill, a denomination that does not exist. She created hers by pasting zeroes onto a one-dollar bill and running it through a color copier.

She cheerfully pointed out that she had 194 more just like it in her bag and insisted to the federal magistrate that she had committed no crime.

Steven Richard King, 22, was arrested in April for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch in Modesto, California, without a weapon. He used his thumb and finger to simulate a gun but failed to keep his hand in his pocket. The teller merely walked away. After a while King got tired of waiting and left, but police caught him nearby.

Robert A. Jackson, 17, and another man were arrested in July and charged with robbing a convenience store and a gas station in Saint Peters, Missouri. According to police, when Jackson couldn't get his car started after the first robbery, he apologized to the clerk and gave the money back in exchange for a jump start. The clerk started the car, then called police. Officers were already looking for Jackson when he allegedly pulled the second job.

Reginald Hunter, 43, was arrested in June and charged with robbing a convenience store in York, Pennsylvania. When the clerk told police the man was wearing flip-flops during the early-morning holdup, they surmised he might live nearby. Sure enough, Hunter lives a few doors down from the store.

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.

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