Lead Story

Chinese inventor Pu Danming recently claimed he’s sold 50,000 of the “healthy cigarettes” that he introduced in Beijing in November. The product is a cigarillo-size tube containing Chinese herbs, a small battery, a microchip, and a dozen other components but no tobacco. The cigarette is not lighted; rather, when the smoker takes a puff a light flashes on the end, imitating a burning ash. The cigarette plays a patriotic song when puffed on, and, said Pu, “The mixture [of herbs] is also good against cancer.”

Compelling Explanations

U.S. representative David Funderburk pleaded no contest to a minor traffic charge in Dunn, North Carolina, in October, even though he denied that he was behind the wheel when his car crossed the center line and caused an oncoming van to veer off the road and overturn. Witnesses said Funderburk drove away after the accident but returned several minutes later in the passenger seat, with his wife driving. (One witness said she actually saw the couple change seats.) Furthermore, in a slipup at a subsequent news conference Mrs. Funderburk described damage to “her” side of the car, the “passenger” side, but then quickly “corrected” herself.

Republican Virginia state delegate Roger J. McClure won reelection in November on a platform of downsizing government, even after news surfaced that he owed $126,000 in back taxes. “I have personally experienced the awesome power of the tax collector and the heavy burden of taxation on businesses and families,” he said, and then promised to continue fighting “against excessive government power and high taxes.”

In November the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected Erwin Davis’s argument that he was not the father of a boy born in 1990. (Davis once ran for governor.) After a paternity test showed a 99.65 percent likelihood Davis was the father, Davis accused the boy’s mother of breaking into his house, stealing a used condom, and inseminating herself.

In January a restaurant owner in Edinburgh, Scotland, unsuccessfully appealed a judgment against him. A 29-year-old woman had won about $7,700 in damages after eating salmonella-infected chicken curry at the restaurant; the restaurateur had argued that she was overweight at the time and that the 21 pounds she lost after being hospitalized actually helped her.

Patrick Williams, 17, a player for the Kilgore High School football team in Texas, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in January for robbing a disabled man. Williams said he spent $2,200 of the $4,500 taken. According to police, Williams said he didn’t know the victim was disabled until the crime was under way and later felt bad about it. “That’s why I spent [the money] so fast. If it had been good money, I would have kept it.”

In January Lori Collison, 30, was found not criminally responsible for robbing three stores in Toronto in 1994, because of a mental disorder. According to psychiatrist Hy Bloom, Collison thought she was taking a screen test at the time and was playing the role of a person robbing the three stores.

In February in Madison, Wisconsin, police found cocaine in the underwear of Leonard Hodge, 22, who had been arrested for failing to carry a driver’s license. According to a police spokesperson, Hodge attempted to exculpate himself by saying the underwear he was wearing wasn’t his.

During the summer of 1995, Philip Morris ran newspaper ads promising to crack down on retailers that sell cigarettes to kids. In October the company declined to act on a list of such retailers in Minnesota that was sent to it by the state attorney general. Philip Morris still intended to crack down, said vice president Ellen Merlo, but “We didn’t say starting today.”

According to a report in the Portland Oregonian, Republican U.S. representative Wes Cooley now says that biographical information he submitted in the 1994 official state voters’ pamphlet might not have been exactly right. The line “Army Special Forces, Korea” does not mean that he served a tour in Korea but only that the Korean conflict was going on at the same time he was in the army. Also, in the 1992 pamphlet he listed himself as “Phi Beta Kappa,” but he now says he was confused about the difference between that honor and being a member of his community college’s honor society.

First Things First

The Washington Post reported in January that in constructing the outdoor gallows for the first death-row hanging in 50 years (for convicted murderer Billy Bailey), workers at the Delaware Correctional Center affixed nonskid safety strips to each of the 23 steps.

In February a government agency in Modesto, California, announced it would take action against the imperial wizard of the California Ku Klux Klan, Bill Albers, for a February 10 cross burning. The agency is the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which plans a civil lawsuit because cross burning violates local air pollution laws.

Neal Berry, a 22-year-old homeless man in Novato, California, was arrested in January and accused of stealing industrial batteries. Berry said he’d found them and started to use them to power his Toshiba laptop computer. Berry believes he is rationally using his $8-an-hour earnings as a shipping clerk by sleeping on the side of a highway but spending $200 a month for a storage locker, a gym membership (so he can shower), a cellular phone, a mailbox, and an E-mail account. Said Berry, “In Novato you can’t even find a single room that costs less than $500 a month.”

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.