News of the Weird
*Things you thought didn't happen any more: An agency of the International Chamber of Commerce in London reported in January that a total of 51 people on ships were killed by pirates in 1997. The prime areas for raids 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, age 23, despite the fact that she murdered an infant daughter in 1992 for crying too much. (She was given a suspended sentence for the murder and she found a job, during which she engaged in credit card fraud. She pled guilty; the judge sent her to prison but changed his mind and let her out a few months later.) And the month before, Bertha Bromley, age 34, was sentenced to probation in Edwardsville, Illinois, for attempting to strangle her nine-month-old boy. Social workers say they are working to reunite mother and son.
Seeds of Our Destruction
*On the heels of reports that Sweden forcibly sterilized 60,000 people with "inferior genes" between 1935 and 1976, Stockholm's second-largest newspaper Aftonbladet reported in September that government-supported dentists had force-fed candy to mentally handicapped people in ten-year experiments to help determine whether sugar causes tooth decay.
*The New England Journal of Medicine reported in December that at least half the drugs donated to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war (perhaps many of them from U.S. companies, though no company or country was identified in the article) were useless, even dangerous, and were apparently donated for the benefit of the companies, not the recipients. Not only were 17,000 tons of drugs out-of-date (or spoiled, or with untranslated instructions), and not only did most or all of the companies get charitable tax deductions in their own countries, but disposal costs of about $2000 a ton were incurred by the World Health Organization.
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*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 anonymous "poopcams" around town to catch dog owners who neglect their scooping duty. And Tel Aviv announced that squads of plainclothes police officers armed with cameras and night-vision equipment were on duty around the clock photographing scofflaws.
*In August, after an investigation, police in Compton, California, announced that they no longer believed that high school English teacher Shannon Barron, who is black, was the victim of the racist feces-dumping attack she had claimed. Their most helpful evidence was the crime lab's finding that the feces on her pants came from the inside and thus it was probable that Barron, as the police chief put it, had a "personal accident."
*In 1988 Iranian Merhan Nasseri, then age 46, landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry to England because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen. French authorities would not let him leave the airport. He has been there ever since, reading, writing in his diary, studying economics, and getting food and newspapers from airport employees. A Charles de Gaulle spokesman said, "He has found a home here."
-- By Chuck Shepherd
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