Lead Stories

In March both the Miss Thailand and the Miss Tiffany Universe beauty contests were televised nationally for the first time, the latter being a competition for male-to-female transsexuals. In a poll viewers said that at least one of the Miss Tiffany Universe finalists made Miss Thailand look “positively mousy” and that Miss Tiffany Universe was “every bit as feminine” as Miss Thailand, according to an April Associated Press report from Bangkok.

For their final projects, students in the pornography course at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, submitted fiction, photography, a video of a man’s eyes as he masturbates, and a bondage performance in which a female begs to be whipped with a rubber cat-o’-nine-tails, according to a May report in the Hartford Courant. Said one student, when asked by a reporter how his parents would react to a course on porn: “[They’d] shrug and say, ‘That’s what kids do these days; they make porn at school.'”

In Bradenton, Florida, Palestinian researcher Mazen Al-Najjar just completed his second year of confinement without being told the evidence against him. Al-Najjar, a U.S. resident for 15 years with three American-born children, faces deportation for some sort of association with a terrorist group, the nature of which the Justice Department has repeatedly refused to disclose, citing national security.

Latest Religious Messages

In February Kahr Arms of Worcester, Massachusetts, a gun manufacturer under the umbrella of the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, announced it had purchased AutoOrdinance Corporation, manufacturer of the Thompson submachine gun (the tommy gun). Kahr (which is run by Moon’s son) was already prominent for its line of small, high-quality handguns. “What’s the message?” asked one critic interviewed in the Washington Post: “Turn the other cheek, or lock and load?”

In February in New Westminster, British Columbia, a court acquitted three of the four Sikhs arrested in a 1997 brawl at a local temple that began when newer members sat in chairs at tables in the dining hall in defiance of traditional members who insisted they sit on the floor.

Recent apparitions: In Yuba City, California, in January an image resembling the Virgin Mary appeared in a knothole in a tree. In Wareham, Massachusetts, in February an image said to be of Jesus appeared in the wood grain of a door in an Episcopalian church. And in Union City, California, in March another image of Jesus appeared in an unfinished concrete wall at the Buddhist Purple Lotus University.

In March Walter Gene Grassie, 49, a former Protestant minister whose eight-year affair with a married Mormon woman had recently ended, was convicted of vandalizing several Mormon churches in New Mexico, causing $2.5 million in damages. Apparently he was angry because he thought the woman’s religion was the only thing preventing her from divorcing her husband. The two had fallen in love shortly after forming the Pecos Valley Yodelers, a touring musical act.

Ten days apart in April, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority and the official newspaper of the Catholic archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, issued rulings that ads extolling the miraculous nature of religion or prayer were deceptive and could no longer be published under their auspices. The British organization’s spokesman said a church advertising miracles would have to provide proof “just like a company that makes washing powder,” and the diocese’s newspaper banned ads thanking particular saints for answering prayers.

First Things First

In April several fire trucks speeding down the Massachusetts Turnpike en route to a brushfire were delayed a few minutes when a toll taker insisted on charging each driver. A spokesman said the toll taker had been reprimanded. And in February an ambulance rushing a severely burned man from Gibraltar to Seville, Spain, had to stop to pay a $4 toll.

Firefighters in Kawasaki, Japan, freed a five-month-old girl from a coin-operated locker in April after her parents had deposited her there while they had dinner at a nearby restaurant. The parents were reprimanded but not arrested.

Pizza deliveryman Thomasz Leszczewski, 26, of Edmonton, Alberta, was arrested in April and charged with a hit-and-run fatality. According to police, Leszczewski hit a 43-year-old pedestrian while out on a delivery but went on with his rounds. Police caught him dropping off a pizza a few minutes later.

The New PTA

In Richmond, California, in March the father of a fourth-grader stabbed a teacher in a disagreement over the girl’s progress. In Danville, Kentucky, in February the grandmother of a middle school student smashed the teacher in the head with the teacher’s nameplate, also in an argument about the student’s progress. And in Boston in March the father of a high school student who got a D-minus in conduct punched a teacher, breaking his jaw. The father is an associate minister of the Greater Love Tabernacle.

Thinning the Herd

In Lubbock, Texas, in March Robert Keith Hill, 24, was killed when a bomb he was making to blow up an abortion clinic exploded in his lap. In Tampa in April a 28-year-old man in the passenger seat of a pickup truck was killed after he opened the door to climb to the back of the truck at 55 mph; he fell and was crushed under the rear wheel. And a 15-year-old boy at Eton College in London was killed in February while playing the “fainting game,” in which one ties a cord around another kid’s neck and tightens it slowly until he faints.

Thinning-the-Herd Process Defeated

Pam Reno of Cold Springs, Nevada, told reporters that she hopes to find a surrogate mother to have her grandchild, using frozen sperm retrieved from the body of her 20-year-old son, who died in September. The procedure is awaiting an ethics panel decision by the Northern Nevada Fertility Center. Reno’s son died playing Russian roulette with his friends.

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/Shawn Belschwender.