News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*Environmentalist blues: The August fire that burned through 700 acres in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles was started, said state officials, 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 eleven free-range cows that had wandered onto his property once too often.

*Doctors writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association in August about a salmonella incident 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 suspected in 1986. They discovered that disciples of the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh deliberately spread the bacteria on restaurant salad bars. The intent was to incapacitate voters opposed to Rajneesh in an upcoming election so his own slate would win. The lead JAMA author said the case has not been publicized because the state feared copycat contaminators.

The Democratic Process
*While her colleagues were debating in July whether the New Life Massage Parlor was a front for prostitution, Oak Grove, Kentucky, city councilwoman Patty Belew, age 26, said she already had enough information to decide. She said she is sure the massage parlor paid bribes to police officers to ignore prostitution because she used to work there.

*In March in Huntsville, Tennessee, the wife of State Rep. Les Winningham was indicted for assault. During the election campaign in November 1996, according to police, the Winninghams pulled over in their van to confront a woman who was wearing a shirt touting Winningham's opponent. After a heated argument, says the victim, 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 that twelve drug addicts were working on an apartment building in exchange for employer-provided heroin at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. According to police, the doses were just enough so that the men would remain employed to get the next fix.

*Among the recent rules established by the Afghanistan Taliban office formerly known as the Department for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice: no paper bags (because the paper possibly could have been recycled from discarded Korans); no kite flying; no clean-shaven men (unless they are willing to settle for careers as street sweepers); and no women allowed in senior positions in hospitals, seated in the front of ambulances, or riding 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 sports-event spectators must not clap. The edict against watching television, however, was lifted.

Names in the News
*In July in New Orleans, Brent Q. Smith, an Internal Revenue Service agent, was officially charged with taking bribes frown a tax-troubled businessman named Brent M. Smith. In Seattle in July, a jury returned a first-degree murder verdict against Darrell Everybodytalksabout. And in June, James Eric Holmgren resigned after being charged with administering enemas to a boy; he had been pastor of the Embarrass-Pike Evangelical Lutheran Church in Embarrass, Minnesota.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd