News of the Weird


Worship Me
“When I get to Africa, I have to worship him,” said Elizabeth Osei, part-time first lady of the Akwamu people of eastern Ghana, speaking of her husband Isaac, who is the Akwamu chief. “When I get back, he has to worship me” (because Elizabeth is the president of the couple’s New York City taxi company, where they work 12-hour days when they’re not Ghanian royalty). Isaac’s reign, according to an August New York Times report, covers several months a year and requires divine-like wisdom in adjudicating his people’s disputes. Another New Yorker with a prestigious double life is Mohamed Mohamed, a state transportation bureaucrat, who recently returned to his cubicle in Buffalo, N.Y., after nine months as prime minister of Somalia. The Buffalo News reported that the Somali native, though shocked by the level of the country’s dysfunction, at least got to stand up to “terrorists, pirates and warlords” and “address dignitaries from the United Nations.”
Cultural Diversity
— The convenient Russian myth that “beer” (up to 10 percent alcohol by volume) is a “soft drink” will end shortly, following the enactment of restrictions signed by President Dmitry Medvedev in July. Beer had been rapidly replacing vodka as the country’s primary alcoholic beverage, as people drank it with impunity around the clock in public places (since they pretended they were consuming nothing more powerful than a “cola”).
— Until recently, impoverished Indonesians sought to cure various illnesses (such as diabetes and high blood pressure) by lying on railroad tracks as trains approached, thus allowing electrical charges from the tracks to course therapeutically through their bodies. A combination of anecdotal successes and dissatisfaction with the state-operated health care system led to the instances in which hundreds at a time lay on the tracks, according to an August Associated Press dispatch.
— What Goes Around, Comes Around: In February, 12 villagers from a South African shantytown allegedly burned down a pastor’s home and killed him out of anger and fear that he was using an “invisible penis” to seduce women. The accused, who are due to answer for their superstition in court in September, according to African Eye News Service, became 11 in May when one of the men died mysteriously, and those 11 are now terrified that the pastor’s family has placed an active curse on them.
Latest Religious Messages
— My Rules: The Aug. 6 revival spectacular in Houston, billed as a day of prayer and attended by 30,000 people at Reliant Stadium, was also billed as a day of fasting, which apparently took at least a few worshipers by surprise, and Reliant’s concession stands (which were open all day) only added to the temptation to ignore the fast. One otherwise-devout man from San Angelo, Texas, told the Texas Tribune that it was OK for him to eat because of an “agreement” he “made with God earlier.”
— Defining “Smite” Down: Fed up with the theft of Bibles from the Basilica of San Salvatore al Monte in Florence, Italy, the Franciscan priests in charge posted signs and spoke prayers urging the pilferer to repent. In the event that he does not, reported London’s Daily Telegraph in August, the prayer asked that the thief be afflicted with “a strong bout of the (runs).”
Questionable Judgments
— My Kids Live With a Child-Killer? John and Kristine Cushing married and raised two daughters, but Kristine became mentally ill and in 1991 killed the girls as they slept. She was hospitalized for four years and eventually monitored for 10 more. Meanwhile, John divorced her and married Trisha, and they raised two sons, but eventually divorced and reached a shared-custody agreement. By 2005, Kristine had been approved by California doctors to return to society, and soon she and John reconnected. Understandably, Trisha became horrified at the prospect that Kristine might relapse, in which case her and John’s two sons would be at risk. In August, a judge in Seattle (where John and Kristine once again cohabit), influenced by Kristine’s clean record since her release, turned down Trisha’s request for sole custody.
— Highly Questionable: (1) German Paz, 33, was sentenced in Orlando to 15 years in federal prison in June for sexual exploitation of a minor via the Internet. He had begun contacting a 13-year-old girl and was using the screen name The Delightful Deviant. (2) Gareth Shand, 6, was welcomed into the first grade in San Antonio in August with an immediate in-school suspension. He is growing his hair long for a cancer-support organization, but that puts him in violation of his school’s dress code.
America In Decline
— Direct Pipelines from the Pentagon to U.S. Enemies: (1) A U.S. military investigation disclosed (according to a July Washington Post report) that at least four of the eight Afghan trucking firms involved in a $2.16 billion Pentagon contract designed to ferry supplies to American troops are likely to have employed subcontractors with direct ties to the Afghan Taliban. (2) United Nations investigators revealed (according to an August New York Times report) that about half of the U.S.-supplied weapons for Ugandan and Burundian troops to battle the Somalian terror group al-Shabab have ultimately wound up in al-Shabab’s hands. (The poorly paid Ugandan and Burundian troops apparently found arms sales more profitable than fighting terrorists.)
People With Issues
— Ned Nefer, 38, pushed a 6-foot mannequin along U.S. Highway 11 in June, for 65 miles from Syracuse, N.Y., to Watertown, N.Y., because “(The mannequin and I) really love the outdoors.” The mannequin, Nefer said, is his wife “Teagan,” who came to Nefer merely as a head but for whom Nefer constructed a body and “married” in 1986. Said a Watertown social services worker, to the Watertown Daily News, “I wouldn’t classify (Nefer) as dangerous at all. He seemed quite happy in his own little world.” Nefer’s “first” wife passed away, and it is possible, the social services lady said, that this is his way of dealing with the loss.
Least Competent Criminals
— Charged with crimes that could send him to prison for life, Gary LaBon, 50, nonetheless chose to defend himself at trial and told the jury in August that any kidnapping, rape or assault he might have committed on the 69-year-old woman in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2009 was “self-defense.” LaBon insisted that he was in fear for his life because the woman was a “gang member.” Judge Kathryn Solorzano took the unusual step of advising the jury to “disregard most of what Labon said during his argument,” according to the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif. (Jurors quickly convicted LaBon on all counts, and he awaits sentencing.)
Recurring Themes
— From time to time, Tibetan Buddhists inadvertently support the seafood industry with campaigns of “liberation” of living beings. In August, a Buddhist group purchased 534 lobsters from a Gloucester, Mass., wholesaler, sprayed them with holy water, clipped off their claw bindings, and released them into the Atlantic Ocean. (Of course, the lobsters were almost certainly re-caught, by Gloucester lobstermen.) (A 2004 News of the Weird story from Marina del Rey, Calif., reported that a Buddhist group made monthly pilgrimages to the harbor, purchased bait and “liberated” it, though it almost certainly was immediately eaten by fish.)
A News of the Weird Classic (January 2004)
A two-week spree of five customer holdups in front of ATMs in Cambridge, Mass., came to an end in November (2003) with the arrest of Richard McCabe, 38. In four of the five robberies, bank security cameras photographed the perpetrator, and McCabe was apparently so disliked by so many that when police released the photos, more than 100 people called, eager to rat him out. Said a detective, “Many … people knew him personally from dealing with him in the past.”