News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The Times of London reported in March that when an employee of the James Beauchamp law firm in Edgbaston, England, recently killed himself, the firm billed his mother about $20,000 for their expenses. Included was a bill for about $2300 for another employee to go to his home to find out why he hadn't shown up for work (thus finding his body), about $500 for identifying the body for the coroner, and about $250 to go to his mother's home and tell her that her son was dead. (After unfavorable publicity the firm withdrew the bill.)

Government in Action
*The Los Angeles Times reported in December that nearly 2000 criminals, "hundreds" of them violent or repeat offenders, have escaped in the last two years from a lackadaisically run work-release program of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. In most cases inmates were merely asked if they preferred work-release, with no examination of their criminal records.

*In January, in an attempt to exercise better crowd control over opposition-party demonstrations in Jakarta, Indonesia, the local police chief put seven cobras in a glass case in front of the main police station and said they would be used to intimidate protesters. He said police would wave the cobras at crowds, but it was not clear if demonstrators would allow the officers to get close enough for the snakes to strike.

*The National Wilderness Institute charged in January that the Department of the Interior has failed to remove several plant and wildlife species from the government's endangered list despite common knowledge that the species do not exist. The department has resisted, saying it costs $37,000 to remove a name from the list.

*In December the Canadian Defense Department issued a seventeen-page set of guidelines for manufacturers who wish to compete for new contracts to supply underwear to the military. Among the most challenging requirements are that one pair must be able to be worn for six-month stints in the field and that the garment must also be invisible to night-vision goggles so that a skivvy-clad soldier does not become a target to snipers.

Seeds of Our Destruction
*The Sunday Times of London reported in December that 300 tons of humanitarian aid from Western countries was sitting in Bosnian warehouses because it was useless. Included were birth control pills with an expiration date of 1986, weight-reduction tablets from Britain, mouthwash from the United States, and chemical waste from Germany. The German chemicals by law cannot be returned, thus creating a hazardous waste disposal problem for Bosnians. According to the Times, some war-zone drivers have been killed transporting these supplies.

*The Associated Press reported in February on Myassar Abul-Hawa, age 52, the first female taxicab driver in Jordan. Her business is brisk, in part because some devout Muslim men ask for her by name to chauffeur their wives and daughters so they won't be alone with male drivers. (Abul-Hawa turned to taxi-driving when she could not put to use her degree in English literature.)

Identical All The Way
*In March in Lipovljani, Croatia, twin brothers Branko Uhiltil and Ivan Uhiltil, age 57, committed suicide in separate incidents within hours of each other, apparently with no knowledge of the other's plans. And in January Jim Hare, age 65, driving his twin Tom near Bellefontaine, Ohio, lost control of the car; they were killed at the same moment.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd