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In April, Japan's Seibotu Raiders easily beat a European team in the finals of the international snowball championship in Finland. Afterward several Japanese players urged Winter Olympics officials to recognize their sport. (Teams start with seven players and 270 snowballs on a field just larger than a tennis court, with some protective barriers; a direct hit eliminates a player, and the first team to seize the other's goal flag wins.)

Punch-drunk from litigation: The Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation recently recorded another quixotic message for its 800 number, this time featuring a male chorus serenading callers with "Oooh, the tobacco plant is a lovely plant / Its leaves so broad and green / But you shouldn't think about the tobacco plant / If you're still a teen." A message last year featured a sexy male voice intoning, "Brown & Williamson Tobacco is in love. We're a giant corporation, and you make us feel like a little kitten," and "Thank you, lover."

Active Seniors

At a January hearing in La Crosse, Wisconsin, child molester Ellef J. Ellefson, 95, was ordered to remain confined beyond his sentence because experts said he was still dangerous. Deo Dubbs, 88, was sentenced to probation in April in Sarasota, Florida, for buying crack, which he said gives him "pep." Also in April, first-time arrestee Ruth A. Goelz, 81, was charged in Hollywood, Florida, with running a $200,000 Ponzi scheme. In Palo Alto, California, retiree Charles John Swanson, 71, was arrested in January for two armed bank robberies, allegedly committed because he was having trouble paying his rent.

Cultural Diversity

Camel mania: A January New York Times report from Selcuk, Turkey, described the popular sport of camel fighting (in which camels in mating season simply push against each other until one falls over), which brings fame to the winning owner. And in a March New York Times profile, well-to-do Istanbul pool builder Ethem Erkoc revealed that he has constructed ten swimming pools for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who permits his favorite camels to frolic in them.

Henk Otte, 43, lives most of the year as an unemployed construction worker in an Amsterdam housing project, but he is also the chief of about 40 villages (home to about 100,000 people) in a region of Ghana about 45 miles from the capital of Accra. According to a January Associated Press dispatch, Otte was visiting with his Ghanaian wife in 1995 when the natives suddenly concluded he was their reincarnated king. At that time, Otte's reaction was that the villagers were "insane," but now says that being king "is my destiny."

The Hanoi Institute of Social Sciences reported in February that toward the end of the last lunar year many men had apparently turned to sex with pregnant prostitutes as a way of releasing evil spirits.

Well, Sure!

Male stereotypes come to life: In January, Quebec researcher Jim Pfaus told the Montreal Gazette that the rat is the "ultimate example" of the male mammal always on the lookout to copulate with new females: when given alcohol, male rats notoriously attempt to have sex with females who have just rejected them. And school-bus driver Alexandre Belvu, 31, was arrested in Brooklyn in January for taking three kids on a ride that lasted eight hours because he couldn't find their school and apparently would not stop to ask for directions.

Ethnic stereotypes come to life: In March police chasing an escaped circus tiger in a suburb of Warsaw accidentally shot and killed a veterinarian trying to tranquilize it. And according to a February New York Times story, the textile company Francital has developed a fabric specially treated to absorb perspiration and body odors for people (such as hospital patients) who can't bathe for extended periods of time; the company is headquartered in France.

Jose Chavarria, 37, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Adel, Iowa, in February. He had killed his friend Jorge Villalobos only minutes after lamenting to friends that a psychic had told him Villalobos was planning to kill him first.

Well Put

In January in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sang Lee, the owner of a custom slaughterhouse near Minneapolis-Saint Paul that serves the Hmong-American community, responded to complaints about the heavy traffic at her business: "We have a complex culture, and we have to sacrifice animals a lot."

Learning to Kill Before They Learn to Shave

In February an eight-year-old boy, coming to his mother's aid, stabbed her abusive boyfriend to death in Coker Creek, Tennessee. In a public execution in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in February, a ten-year-old boy, the eldest male in his family, took a rifle and shot the man who had killed his father. And in Dover Township, New Jersey, in March a ten-year-old boy, arguing with his father over missing chocolate icing, complied when the father sarcastically suggested the kid just take a knife and kill him.

Update

In the five years since Bill Davis made News of the Weird for settling his 20-year dispute with Rhode Island over the pile of 10 million used tires (he says it's 30 million) on his property in Smithfield, contractors have gradually removed 4 million tires and sold them as fuel. Federal and state officials still believe that a fire on the land would cause catastrophic environmental damage to Narragansett Bay because each melted tire would release about a quart and a half of oil. (One such fire in Westley, California, in September burned for a month.)

Least Competent Criminals

Ill-conceived crimes: In Biloxi, Mississippi, in January, Ronald Dean Cherry, 52, was arrested after he called a casino and threatened to start shooting its customers unless the company delivered $100,000 within two hours to his home (address helpfully provided by Cherry). And Ronald Keith Graham, 45, was arrested in Des Moines in February and charged with burglary; according to police, he had stolen a TV, but rather than try to sell it to someone else, he invited its former owners to his apartment, where he offered to sell it back to them for $150 and even suggested an easy payment plan.

In the Last Month

A 26-year-old woman in Milan started an agency to say prayers for people too busy to say their own (at $1.50 a day and up). A New York City woman was convicted of arranging for her lover to get a penile implant using her estranged husband's health insurance. A 20-year-old new mother was arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; she had allegedly dealt $650 worth of cocaine from her room in the maternity ward. An Israeli rabbinical council authorized three tons of bread for starving Ethiopians but, because it was Passover week, was forced to send only religiously correct but hard-to-digest unleavened bread. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that a 20-cent tax increase on a six-pack of beer would reduce gonorrhea in young adults by 9 percent.

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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