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Earlier this month in Los Angeles the brand-new earthquake-proof Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated; features of the 12-story, $190 million edifice include not only a gift shop ($24.99 for a bottle of the house chardonnay), an ATM, and a $12-a-day parking garage but a number of private subterranean crypts--for sale to parishioners for prices ranging from $50,000 to $3 million. ("[That's] kind of like selling skyboxes," complained a Notre Dame theologian, but a professor at Loyola Marymount defended the practice, saying, "I don't think that the poor are terribly worried about where they are going to be buried.")

According to a July report in the British newspaper the Guardian, Great Britain is upgrading courthouse facilities on tiny Pitcairn Island (about 3,000 miles from New Zealand in the South Pacific) in response to the claims of investigators who suspect as many as 20 past and current residents of engaging in sex with children. (Only four dozen people presently live on the island--many of them descendants of the original settlers, the famous Bounty mutineers--but it has roughly 400 citizens.) The island has no airport and no harbor, so if charges are filed, trials may be held in Britain or New Zealand using a satellite video hookup from Pitcairn.

Vacationers Just Beggin' for It

In June in Pietersburg, South Africa, a 34-year-old woman from Texas was attacked by three young lions in a game-park enclosure after she started petting one of them. And in July in Orange Beach, Alabama, a 40-year-old Georgia man locked himself out of a 10th-floor condo and, frustrated by the slow response of the building's security guards, decided to shimmy down to his balcony from the roof; he fell 200 feet into shallow water in the swimming pool, breaking three ribs and puncturing a lung.

Trouble Up Ahead

Jehovah's Witness Bill Bowen was expelled from the sect in July for "causing divisions" with his complaints about the church's policy regarding child sexual abuse: he'd resigned as an elder in December 2000, charging that the sect manages a secret database of 23,720 members who've been accused or found guilty of abuse. He claims that victims have almost no recourse once they bring charges to the church's attention--confidentiality rules prevent earlier confessions from being used against accused abusers, and victims must provide two eyewitnesses in order to prosecute (an arrangement mandated by Deuteronomy 19:15). The police are never involved, and even confessed abusers are "punished" only by being barred from positions of authority within the church.

In June in Livermore, California, Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, a Chippewa sculptor, offered to lift a curse he placed on the town's sewer system in 1973, after municipal workers shortened a totem pole he'd made for Livermore's centennial four years earlier. (Some residents still attribute any sewer breakdown to the curse.) The city has already restored the pole, but Nordwall wants a formal apology; mayor Marshall Kamena supports the idea, explaining, "I'd rather not mess with something I don't understand."

Recurring Themes

More creative smugglers: In July in Falfurria, Texas, border patrol officers arrested two men who'd driven back from Mexico with 11 pounds of marijuana, which they'd apparently hoped to hide in the embalmed body of a dead relative: the corpse's chest cavity had been cut open, and the wound had a plastic grocery bag taped over it. In July in Brindisi, Italy, a 23-year-old Belgian woman arriving on a ferry from Greece was detained for trying to smuggle her 26-year-old Kurdish boyfriend in a large suitcase. And also in July in Manchester, England, a 17-year-old girl fresh off a plane from Dubai was questioned in the airport when agents realized that the lizard design on her head scarf was an actual endangered chameleon.

Our Civilization in Decline

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of India levied fines against Coca-Cola and Pepsi to pay for the removal of ads they'd painted on rocks along a 36-mile stretch of road in the picturesque Manali-Rohtang area of the Himalayan mountains. In August in Vancouver, Washington, a car dealership agreed to make restitution to settle charges that it sold 18 new cars in 14 months to a 70-year-old mentally impaired man. And though a new California "safe haven" law allowing mothers to leave unwanted babies at hospitals has drawn widespread praise, in August a county manager for Waste Management Inc. objected to the stickers the city of Santa Cruz proposed to place on his Dumpsters: "If we [have to tell people] not to throw babies in Dumpsters...we've reached the lowest point we can get to as a society."

In the Last Month

Germany beat Lithuania 4-1, advancing in the European under-21 soccer championship, because Lithuanian players kicked three goals into their own net....A fourth-grade teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina, was reprimanded for teaching her kids the meaning of "niggardly" ("stingy"); though the word has no etymological connection to a racial slur, school officials maintained that it could be offensive to some students....And police

in Greece continue to enforce a ban

on all computer games, enacted in

July, despite the fact that a court in Thessaloniki has overturned the ban; legislators have said they outlawed all electronic and mechanical games because they did not know how to ban only video gambling.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to

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

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