Lead Stories

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Australian attorney general’s office ruled in September that the medical screenings required of flight crews and air traffic controllers–which include tests of eyesight and hearing–violate the country’s laws against disability discrimination. Alarmed by the prospect of physically unqualified pilots, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority announced immediately that it would appeal the ruling, but the Flight Attendant’s Association was reluctant to support the appeal, citing CASA plans to apply such screenings to cabin crews–a move it fears would allow airlines to fire attendants for being short or overweight.

Last month in Argentina, the legislature debated a bill authored by Senator Jorge Capitanich that was meant to help restore voters’ faith in their elected officials. (The country is gripped by the worst economic crisis in its history; food riots and violent protests have paralyzed major cities, and a slogan popular with the public translates to “Get Rid of Them All!”) The bill would require all congressional and presidential candidates to prove they’ve paid their taxes, disclose their criminal records, and submit to mental and physical exams to ensure they’re fit to hold office.

Latest Protests

In July in Escravos, Nigeria, about 150 women occupied the country’s largest oil terminal for ten days, blockading over a thousand workers inside, and demanded jobs for their families and a fairer share of oil revenues; to back up their demands the women threatened to take off their clothes–a traditional protest used to shame and humiliate men. (The terminal’s owner, ChevronTexaco, capitulated and promised to hire local workers to modernize poor villages in the area.) And in August in Rajasthan, India, fundamentalist Hindus protesting the movie Kaante (whose profits they claim support organized crime) said they would release poisonous snakes into theaters showing the film.

Cultural Diversity

In July in Indore, India, new bride Sangeeta Sauda, who’d been kicked out of her husband’s home for taking a pilgrimage without his permission, volunteered to undergo a traditional public trial by fire: her hands protected only by leaves and turmeric paste, she held a red-hot iron rod for 15 minutes to prove she was as pure and faithful as the Hindu goddess Sita. She wasn’t burned, and her Khanjar tribal community celebrated her exoneration with a feast–but police later arrested her husband and in-laws, saying they’d pressured her to hurt herself.

In August, Thailand’s public health minister issued a warning against keeping and raising Madagascar hissing cockroaches; the two-and-a-half-inch bugs have recently become trendy pets in Bangkok, selling for about $1.20 each. The roaches carry many different bacteria and viruses, and because they breed very quickly, the government is anticipating a population explosion once their owners tire of them and let them go.


In June near Chania, Crete, a 20-year-old fisherman accidentally shot himself with his spear gun, driving the three-foot projectile up through his jaw and out the top of his skull; still fully conscious, he floated in the sea for six hours before being found, then survived three hours of surgery to remove the spear. Because the spear passed through a “non-functional” space in his brain, the man was soon back on his feet with no serious problems.

Boredom, Illustrated

In September in Elgin, Illinois, a 16-year-old boy was hospitalized with second-degree burns after he and two friends devised a game in which they splashed gasoline on each other’s shorts, set it afire, then extinguished the flames by rolling on the ground. No charges were filed–in the words of one Elgin police officer, “Being totally stupid is not a crime.”

Our Civilization in Decline

In September in Brooklyn, New York, the large health insurer AmeriChoice came under fire from state senator Carl Kruger for promotional tactics it uses in poor immigrant neighborhoods–company representatives park a van near a grocery store and offer coupons for free chickens to people who switch their medicaid coverage over to AmeriChoice. And in August in Springfield, Florida, city commissioners voted to buy 15 new police cars for $1 apiece from North Carolina-based Government Acquisitions, with the condition that the company be allowed to plaster the vehicles with advertising badges, NASCAR style.

In the Last Month

Montana’s Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate, Stan Jones, explained that his skin had permanently turned grayish blue because for years he’d been drinking a homemade solution of colloidal silver to protect himself against illness; he’d started because he feared a Y2K-related antibiotic shortage….In Edmonton, Alberta, Canadian Football League running back Ron Williams and six teammates linked arms and made a group “fair catch” of a woman who’d jumped from the fourth floor of a burning building….And in Girard, Ohio, one of the jurors who sent U.S. Representative James Traficant to prison on racketeering charges volunteered to work for Traficant’s reelection campaign, saying he was misled by incomplete testimony and now believes the politician is innocent.

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

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