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Environmentalist blues: Investigators of the August fire that burned through 700 acres of the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles said it was started by an environmentally conscious camper who was dutifully burning his used toilet paper. And in Oregon, clean-water activist Patrick Shipsey is awaiting trial for shooting 11 free-range cows that wandered onto his property once too often.

In July the Marie Stopes International charity began offering special ten-minute abortions at clinics in London, Leeds, and Manchester, England, to make the procedure more convenient for working women on break. Said one critic, "I don't think a child's life should be disposed of in a lunch hour."

Doctors writing in an August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that the 751 people who became ill in 1984 after eating in a restaurant in the Dalles, Oregon, were intentionally poisoned, as criminal investigators had suspected. Investigators found that disciples of the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had poured salmonella bacteria on restaurant salad bars to test their plan to incapacitate voters opposed to Rajneesh in an upcoming election. One of the authors of the article said the case has gone largely unpublicized since then because the government feared a spate of copycat crimes.

The Democratic Process

In June officials in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India validated ballots for 10,000 gods and goddesses to vote in upcoming plebiscites on water usage. The deities are listed on deeds as landowners and are thus entitled to elect their own representatives.

While the city council of Oak Grove, Kentucky, was debating in July whether the New Life Massage Parlor was a front for prostitution, councilwoman Patty Belew, 26, volunteered that she knew the massage parlor had paid bribes to police officers to ignore prostitution because she used to work there.

During a late-night meeting of the British Columbia legislature in July, legislators Linda Reid and Bonnie McKinnon brought a windup dildo into the chamber and passed it around as a prank. Unfortunately, the in-house TV cameras were still on.

In August the Boston Globe profiled the Taiwan National Assembly, in which it is fairly common for minority New Party members to filibuster by merely grabbing the microphone and physically restraining majority-party members so that they cannot call for votes. Fights break out, sometimes bloody ones. Said a local political science professor, "It may not be civilized, but it's efficient," because citizens respond by reelecting the most aggressive legislators.

In July the city council of Berkeley, California, announced a politically motivated boycott that critics say will make it difficult to buy gasoline for city-owned cars on official business. The new resolution prohibits the city from doing business with firms that do business in Nigeria, including ARCO, Unocal, Texaco, Chevron, Mobil, and Shell; Exxon has long been off-limits.

In March in Huntsville, Tennessee, the wife of state representative Les Winningham was indicted for assault. According to police, during the campaign in November 1996 the Winninghams confronted a woman wearing a shirt showing her support for Winningham's opponent. The victim said that after a heated argument, Mr. Winningham instructed his wife to rough her up, whereupon Mrs. Winningham punched her three times and kicked her.

Seeds of Our Destruction

In May police raided a construction site in Oporto, Portugal, and discovered 12 drug addicts working dawn to dusk on an apartment building in exchange for shots of heroin at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. According to police, the doses were just enough that the men would keep working for the next fix.

Among the recent rules established by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: no paper bags (because the paper might have been recycled from discarded Korans); no kite flying; no clean-shaven men; women cannot hold senior positions in hospitals, sit in the front seats of ambulances, or ride with foreign citizens; women visiting hospitals must refrain from making noise with their shoes while walking; athletes must grow beards and wear full Islamic dress in the field; and spectators at sports events must not clap. However, a ban on watching television was lifted.

The New York Post reported in June that 580,000 prescriptions for Prozac and similar antidepressants were written last year for minors, despite a government ban (now being reconsidered) on marketing the drugs for use by children. Eli Lilly, Prozac's maker, has recently introduced peppermint-flavored Prozac.

Prostitutes in Antwerp, Belgium, held an open house in May to promote their trade and to persuade potential customers that the town's red-light district is safe. Bands and acrobats performed, coffee and soda were served, and visitors were encouraged to tour the brothels.

Names in the News

In New Orleans, Brent Q. Smith, 46, an Internal Revenue Service agent, was charged in July with taking bribes from a tax-troubled businessman named Brent M. Smith. Also in July, a jury in Seattle returned a first-degree murder conviction against Darrell Everybodytalksabout, 40. And in June James Eric Holmgren, 46, resigned from the pulpit after being charged with administering enemas to a boy for his own sexual gratification; he had been pastor of the Embarrass-Pike Evangelical Lutheran Church in Embarrass, Minnesota.

Refreshing Criminal Honesty

When Maria DiGiulio was booked in July for robbing a bank in Everett, Massachusetts, the officer preparing her paperwork asked what her occupation was. "Bank robber," she said. And last October in Toronto, Ontario, Mohamed Sead, 47, was booked for fraud and asked his occupation. "Con artist," he answered. Sead's scheme had been to deceive girlfriends into believing that he was the now-deceased Dodi Fayed.

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 by Shawn Belschwender.

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