Lead Story

In the Pacific archipelago nation of Vanuatu, the government’s drive to develop a Western-style financial system has created difficulties for citizens living in isolated villages, who typically use little or no cash and employ handmade or naturally occurring objects as currency. But the Tari Bunia Bank, according to a July BBC News dispatch, is helping villagers preserve their historical economy: at its 14 branch offices on the island of Pentecost, residents can now maintain interest-bearing checking and savings accounts and take out loans and mortgages using only traditional currency items such as pig tusks and skulls and mats woven from leaves.

Latest Religious Messages

Charles Flowers, director of the Christian youth “boot camp” Love Demonstrated Ministries in Banquete, Texas, was charged with aggravated assault in August; authorities said that when one 15-year-old camper wouldn’t keep pace during a morning run in June, Flowers and an employee tied a rope to her and dragged her along behind a van. Also in August, Wiley Drake, a Baptist pastor in Buena Park, California, acknowledged that after an activist group urged the IRS to investigate his church’s nonprofit status (in light of his recent endorsement of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee), he instructed his followers to pray for the deaths of the group’s leaders.

The Jerusalem Post reported in June that certain ultraorthodox Israeli pirate radio stations had stopped playing songs by 20-year-old Eliyahu Faizkov, seemingly because his singing voice sounds too much like that of a woman. Jewish law compares hearing a woman sing to seeing parts of her body that are ordinarily kept covered, and many Orthodox authorities hold that men thus may not listen even to a recording of a woman singing; apparently the concern was that male listeners would believe they were violating the law even though they actually weren’t.

Government in Action

In 2004 Tampa police found 58 Vicodin pills in a truck belonging to 42-year-old Mark O’Hara; charged with trafficking, he faced a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison. Though he explained that he had a valid prescription for the pills and that his doctors and pharmacist would testify to this, prosecutors moved ahead, offering him a three-year sentence if he’d admit to having a drug problem; he refused. At trial the judge wouldn’t let his lawyer explain to jurors that it was legal to possess Vicodin with a prescription, and O’Hara was convicted. A first appeal was denied; on his second try an appellate panel took 11 months to conclude the trial judge had erred. (The state argued that having a prescription wasn’t a recognized defense for trafficking, a position the appeals court called “absurd.”) This July, O’Hara (who reportedly sold his home and business to pay fines and legal costs) was released after two years in prison; it remained unclear whether the state would try him again.

Family Values

Michael and Iana Straw pleaded guilty to child neglect in Reno, Nevada, in July; prosecutors said the couple’s two young children nearly starved to death because the Straws had become addicted to playing computer games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons Online. According to a police report, they had plenty of edible food and formula in their garbage-filled apartment but apparently were so engrossed in their role-playing that they just hadn’t gotten around to feeding the kids.

A surgeon and a gynecologist were arrested in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in June for allegedly having their 15-year-old son perform a caesarean section while they filmed him, apparently in hopes it would get him into Guinness World Records. Witnesses said the father (the surgeon) had screened the video at a recent meeting of the Indian Medical Association; according to one news-paper account, he’d earlier told an interviewer that the boy had been performing similar procedures since age 12.

Fetishists Working Overtime

Maeyasu Kawamura, 60, indicted for theft, Osaka, June; 8,000-plus pieces of women’s clothing found in home (allegedly liked to sleep buried in pile of them). Shigeo Kodama, 54, arrested, Hiroshima, February; 3,977 pairs panties, 355 bras, 10 pairs stockings (climbing skills developed as construction worker allegedly aided in upper-story break-ins). Erik Heinrich, 26, charged with burglary, Waukesha, Wisconsin, May; 1,500-plus pairs girls’ shoes (police: “He liked to smell them”). Chih Hsien Wu, 43, arrested, Fort Collins, Colorado, May; 1,300 women’s undergarments. Dale Trompke, 37, pleaded no contest to attempted burglary, Kearney, Nebraska, August; 500-plus women’s undergarments. Garth Flaherty, 24, charged with theft and burglary, Pullman, Washington, March; 1,500 women’s undergarments (collection weighed 93 pounds). Kevin Parrett, 51, pleaded guilty to burglary, Faulkton, South Dakota, May; 395 pairs panties, 248 bras, 173 pairs stockings (employer’s wife caught him prowling around her home wearing ski mask).

If Not for Alcohol, Would News of the Weird Even Exist?

Alexander Ocampo, 27, was arrested on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, in July for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. The officer who pulled him over said Ocampo didn’t seem to have noticed that when he’d swerved, overcorrected, gone into a spin, then regained control about three miles earlier, he’d flung his passenger out the open window and into the road. And in August deputies chased a suspected drunk driver through suburban Orlando; when the car finally came to a stop, the driver allegedly jumped out and tried to get away on foot, but not without first helping himself to a beer from the 12-pack sitting on his front seat.

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