Lead Stories

Last November a study released by Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, citing professors at Florida International University, reported that in 2000 multinational corporations avoided $45 billion in U.S. taxes by buying from and selling to their own foreign subsidiaries at sometimes ridiculous prices. A U.S. subsidiary might pay $5,655 for a toothbrush, with the tax going to the other country, or charge 82 cents for a prefabricated metal building, with the tax going to the U.S.

Last October the BBC News reported that the kingdom of Tonga (the islands between Fiji and American Samoa) had lost $26 million when its court jester allegedly invested the money in “a mysterious company that has now vanished.” The money was accumulated by selling Tongan citizenship and special passports to people in trouble, from Imelda Marcos to Chinese leaving Hong Kong. After American businessman Jesse Bogdonoff notified the king that the money was being held in an interest-free Bank of America account and urged him to invest it, the king appointed him not only advising officer for the funds but court jester. In June 1999 the money was transferred to an asset management company in Nevada, but the kingdom has learned that the company no longer exists, and Bogdonoff’s whereabouts are unknown.

Latest Religious Messages

According to several press reports last September, the recent increase in exorcisms worldwide rivals the one that followed the 1973 release of the film The Exorcist. The Roman Catholic Church performed at least 15 last year (versus one in 1995) and has ten official exorcists on duty in the United States. Michael Cuneo, a researcher at Fordham University, said there may be 500 Protestant evangelical exorcism ministries in the U.S. alone. After attending about 50 exorcisms, Cuneo reported “lots of fireworks, lots of dramatic activity,” but nothing supernatural; he thinks the number of exorcisms will increase in proportion to people’s feelings of helplessness.

The Philadelphia archdiocese recently approved a rare petition from a man to be a lay hermit in the Catholic Church: according to his vows, 46-year-old Richard Withers will spend nearly all of his time in solitary contemplation, based on “an almost unremitting desire to be alone with God.” Living in a small, rehabilitated row house in a poor neighborhood, Withers works silently at a paying job one day a week and exchanges E-mail with other hermits.

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the Answers in Genesis ministry in Florence, Kentucky, is building a $14 million creationism museum with exhibits that will demonstrate that the world was created in six days. A large double-helix of DNA will be displayed, suggesting that humans are too complex to have evolved, and a life-size dinosaur replica will carry the sign “Created on: Day 6.” Ministry director Ken Ham said he is targeting Christians who read the Bible figuratively. “This is a cultural war,” he said. “They need to know: We’re coming.”

People With Issues

Last month the Sydney Morning Herald profiled 25-year-old Mohammad Afroz Abdul Razak of Melbourne, who told reporters that he belonged to a cell of 20 al-Qaida terrorists whose missions included flying an airplane into that city’s 55-story Rialto Towers. However, the Australian government has denied the existence of any such cell, and an investigation revealed that Razak had taken 17 months to accumulate 20 hours of flying time, staying in bed to avoid particularly difficult lessons.

Least Competent People

From the police report of Colorado’s Jackson County Star, October 6, 2001: “A hunter shot a deer and was apparently trying to arrange his rifle on the antlers for a trophy photo when the gun fired, blowing off the man’s thumb and part of his hand. When medical personnel arrived, the man had wrapped the wounded hand in duct tape.”

Civilization in Decline

Last year the union representing 1,500 Church of England clergy arranged for martial-arts training after statistics showed that being a vicar is more dangerous than being a probation officer….And last month at a wheel manufacturing plant in Norton, Ohio, a 48-year-old polisher was pinned against a conveyor belt and killed by an industrial robot.

In the Last Month

In Toronto, a 39-year-old woman was acquitted of abducting her children in a divorce fight, but moments later the judge found her guilty of contempt of court because she insisted on putting her finger in her mouth and making popping sounds while he was speaking….Hun Sen, prime minister of Cambodia, announced that any remaining karaoke bars in the country would be destroyed by military tanks….And in Los Angeles, a 28-year-old man shot his wife to death, drove to a highway overpass, shot himself to death, and toppled over the railing onto a Toyota Camry, killing the driver.

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