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State and federal authorities recently refused to give the town of Browning, Montana (population 1,100), emergency water-quality funds, saying extensive tests showed that the water is safe to drink even though a February Associated Press report described it as "mucky brown and silty," "gritty black," "filthy," and "revolting." Officials say the water's high iron and manganese levels violate no law, and as long as the bacteria count is low only longer-range improvements such as digging more wells can be considered.

Mixed news for women: Twenty wives petitioned for divorce in Cairo on March 1, the first day that women were eligible to file without elaborate proof of abuse. They must still wait three to six months for a ruling, whereas a husband can get a divorce instantly with no reason required. And in February, South Korea's national police force announced it would begin placing unarmed female troops on the front lines of street demonstrations to calm protesters. One rowdy labor union leader acknowledged the wisdom of the decision: "How can we attack females?"

Japanese Cult Mania

In December the Boston Globe reported that the Japanese government estimates there are 6,500 religious cults operating in the country. Among them are a group with assets of $600 milllion called Honohana, whose leader was accused by the government in January of charging disciples up to $100,000 to alter their negative fates, (which he claimed he could foresee by examining their feet), and Life Space, whose followers were discovered by police in a Tokyo airport hotel room in August ministering to the body of their leader--who had died four months before--as if he were still alive. In fact, the followers insisted to the media that the body was responding nicely to their care and had recently enjoyed some tea.

Questionable Judgments

According to a January Boston Globe report, three million residential customers still lease AT&T telephones through Lucent Technologies at rates of $53 to $252 a year, virtually all of whom have been doing so continuously since the breakup of AT&T in 1984. Most of the customers are elderly, and when a Globe reporter asked whether they were being exploited, a Lucent spokesperson said, "As long as there is demand for the service, we will continue to provide it."

Craig J. Ziegler, 35, was sentenced to five years' probation in Pittsburgh in November for impersonating a law-enforcement officer and then forcing a woman (a self-described former prostitute) to perform a sexual act. The victim was outraged that Ziegler got no jail time for the assault and pointed out to reporters that the last time she was in court for prostitution she went to jail for seven months.

In China, Zhang Guoqiang, 27, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February for swindling 50 people in the northern port city of Tianjin out of about $100,000 by showing them a photo of him with his pal Bill Clinton to prove he could get them U.S. visas. An Associated Press reporter in Beijing said the two men's images are "clearly out of proportion" to each other.

Awesome!

In December in Alberta, John Ebeling, 40, lost control of his pickup truck and crashed into a speeding freight train, hooking the truck onto the train and causing his vehicle to be dragged along the tracks. Ebeling freed himself from the truck and climbed onto the side of the train, held on for about 12 miles until he managed to uncouple the car he was on (causing the train to brake and his rail car to smash into it), and rode the out-of-control car into a ditch. Thirteen cars were derailed and power lines were downed, but Ebeling walked away with only minor bruises.

Nathan King, 12, is recuperating in Helena, Montana, after open-heart surgery in March to remove a pencil that he had fallen on lunging for a football. King's welcome-home present from neighbors: a sweatshirt reading "Tougher Than Dracula."

Leading Economic Indicators

According to a December Agence France-Presse report from Budapest, Hungarian physicians are increasingly relying on tips from patients to supplement their falling wages in the country's free health-care system. The practice is so common that the phrase "one final checkup" is widely used to indicate a brief visit to the examination room for the exchange.

In February Bloomberg News reported that the $23 million Internet company NetJ.com, which went public in November, had seen its share price double in recent weeks to nearly $4, despite the fact that the company disclosed in Securities and Exchange Commission documents that it not only had no profits but no revenues and in fact that it did no business of any kind. The company told the SEC that it might or might not begin doing business soon, but if it did, it had no specific idea about what kind of work it would do.

Recurring Themes

In 1998 News of the Weird reported on the increasing popularity of therapeutic self-trepanation (drilling a hole in one's head to improve blood flow around the brain) for stress relief. In February of this year, after unsuccessfully soliciting doctors in her native England to perform the procedure, Heather Perry, 29, who claimed she suffered from a physiologically induced exhaustion, flew to Philadelphia to seek guidance from prominent trepanist Peter Halvorson. After boning up on the technique, Perry performed the 20-minute procedure on herself, filmed by a camera crew from ABC News. Said Perry afterward, "There's definitely more mental clarity. I feel wonderful."

Undignified Deaths

In Phnom Penh in October, a policeman shot a tipsy motorist to death at a traffic stop to prevent him from exposing himself to the officer, which is considered a grave insult there. And a 30-year-old repo man and a 19-year-old man behind in car payments killed each other in a gun battle in Miami in February; the car was a 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

In the Last Month

A 62-year-old woman in Darby Township, Pennsylvania, was stabbed by a stranger in the neck, but she thought she had only been punched and grocery-shopped for 40 minutes before a passerby pointed out the four-inch knife embedded in her flesh. A Maryland state senator introduced a bill to make it illegal for a woman to breast-feed another's baby. Las Vegas police burst into an apartment and arrested a Florida murder suspect while he was watching America's Most Wanted on TV, believing that his crime would be featured that night. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals targeted an antimilk campaign to college students, urging them to drink beer instead. At a routine traffic stop in Enon, Ohio, police found 22 pounds of cocaine hidden in a car's center console, with a lock controlled by a magnet inside a passenger's bra.

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.

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