Lead Stories

Things you thought didn’t happen anymore: An agency of the International Chamber of Commerce in London reported in January that in 1997 a total of 51 people on ships were killed in attacks by pirates. The prime areas of concern were near Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Brazil.

The blessed family unit: In December a judge in Montgomery County, Maryland, awarded custody of a two-year-old boy to his biological mother, Latrena D. Pixley, 23, despite the fact that she had murdered an infant daughter in 1992 for crying too much. Pixley was given a suspended sentence for the murder and then found a job, during which she engaged in credit-card fraud. The judge in that case sent her to prison but reduced the sentence and let her out a few months later. And in November Bertha Bromley, 34, was sentenced to probation in Edwardsville, Illinois, for attempting to strangle her nine-month-old boy; social workers say they are working toward eventually reuniting mother and son.

The Times of London reported in January that 10,000 current or former Irish soldiers have filed claims seeking compensation for hearing loss they suffered while in the military, either because of noise from firing ranges or because they played in army bands. Judges have been awarding them about $33,000 per claim, on average. The Times also reported that an Irish soldier on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon has filed a claim against the army because he developed skin cancer. The soldier said he should have been issued sunscreen.

Seeds of Our Destruction

In December Iowa Wesleyan College announced it would award an honorary degree in business to Cambodian tycoon Teng Bunma, a close adviser to Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen who has long been suspected of cocaine trafficking. Teng Bunma recently made international headlines when he shot out a Royal Air Cambodge airliner’s tires when the airline lost his luggage and for pulling a gun on the crew of an Orient Thai Airlines flight so it wouldn’t take off before his companions arrived. In January the college changed its plans when it was pointed out that Teng Bunma had been denied a U.S. visa because of the drug allegations.

On the heels of reports that Sweden forcibly sterilized 60,000 people with “inferior” genes between 1935 and 1976, the Stockholm newspaper Aftonbladet reported in September that government-supported dentists had force-fed candy to mentally handicapped people in experiments to help determine whether sugar facilitates tooth decay.

Charles Keating is a lucky man: In October China’s Cen Huanreng, mayor of a village in Guangdong province, China, was convicted of selling about $2.1 million in public property and then gambling away the money at a Macao casino. He was sentenced to death.

In November, Amsterdam hosted the tenth annual Cannabis Cup, sponsored by High Times magazine. Two thousand people tested the products of many vendors. Publicist Jody Miller, who said she had been high for three days solely on secondhand smoke, tried to explain the testers’ stamina: “You have to pace yourself.”

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who visited Scotland in October, left without accepting the invitation of British gay-rights leaders to be hooked up to an erection-measuring machine to determine whether his rabid antigay bias is really a cover for homosexual feelings. (Mugabe has called gays “lower than dogs and pigs.”) Research by a University of Georgia professor indicates that as many as 80 percent of gay-hating men become aroused at gay erotic videos.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported in December that at least half the drugs donated to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war were useless and even dangerous, and were apparently donated mainly so that the contributing companies could receive tax deductions. Not only were 17,000 tons of drugs out-of-date, spoiled, or accompanied by untranslated instructions, but disposal costs of about $2,000 per ton fell to the World Health Organization.

In August two cities debated plans to reduce the amount of dog poop in municipal parks and on sidewalks. The city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was contemplating installing a series of “poopcams” around town to catch dog owners neglecting their scooping duties while Israeli officials in Tel Aviv announced that squads of plainclothes police officers armed with cameras and night-vision equipment would be on duty around the clock photographing violators of the city’s dog-poop ordinance.

First Things First

In July long-haired defensive end Brent Burnstein walked out of the Tennessee Oilers’ training camp rather than submit to the traditional rookie haircut at the hands of veteran players. And in November five football players from Leguna-Acona High School in New Mexico quit the team just before their first playoff game to go deer hunting.

In January Vanity Fair reported that death-row inmate Larry Wayne White got his preferred last meal before his execution in Huntsville, Texas, last May, but not a last cigarette. The prison is a nonsmoking facility.

Eww, Gross!

In August police in Compton, California, announced that they no longer believed that high school English teacher Shannan Barron, who is black, had been the victim of a racist attack as she had claimed. Barron had said that she was smeared with feces during the attack, but the crime lab found that the feces on her pants had come from the inside, making it more likely that Barron had had, as the police chief put it, a “personal accident.”

An August letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from Dr. Rachel L. Chin described an American woman who became infested with botfly larvae in Peru. The patient was examining spots on her legs when she noticed things starting to wiggle out. Seven maturing bugs, which had been gestating in her legs, emerged before she got medical help.

Happy Anniversary to Us

In 1988 Iranian Merhan Nasseri, then 46, landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry into England because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen. French authorities would not let him leave the airport, and there he has remained ever since. With his luggage by his side, Nasseri reads, writes in his diary, studies economics, and receives food and newspapers from airport employees. Charles de Gaulle spokeswoman Danielle Yzerman said, “An airport is kind of a place between heaven and earth; he has found a home here.” News of the Weird has also been around since 1988, and with this column begins its 11th year.

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

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