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News of the Weird 

His own "Head Start" program:
A 7-year-old Minneapolis boy stole an SUV on Dec. 6 and crashed into several things, and then, after attempts by the police and his guardian to explain to him why stealing cars was wrong, he stole another one on Dec. 17 and hit another vehicle, injuring a boy riding with his mother. His two reported explanations were, respectively: "I want to be a good driver when I grow up," and "I just had to get to school and I don't know where it is." (According to a hopeful Minneapolis Star Tribune report, experts believe that kids that young who commit crimes are no more than two to three times more likely to turn into violent criminals.)

Bosom buddies:
In a December New York Times dispatch from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, concerning the heavily religious-law-regulated Perdu lingerie shop, its female marketing director said that about 85 percent of Saudi women wear ill-fitting bras, perhaps because the law requires that sales clerks in public stores be men. According to the Times, "[W]hile women may be berated for showing a ... leg or an arm [in public], they must ask strange men for help in assessing their bra size."

It suits them:
Two men who have sat on juries in notoriously litigation-friendly Jefferson County, Miss., filed a lawsuit against the TV program "60 Minutes" in December, claiming that they were defamed in a segment about Mississippi juries' generosity. Anthony Berry was on a jury that gave out $150 million in an asbestos case, and Johnny Anderson was on one that awarded $150 million in a diet drug case, and both say the "60 Minutes" segment made the juries seem so extravagant that they must be getting kickbacks. The two men's lawsuit (filed in Jefferson County, of course) asks for more than $6 billion.

God's own hoop dreams:
The president of Baptist-affiliated Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, N.C.) admitted in September that he raised a star basketball player's grade-point average so that he would be eligible to play in the 2000-2001 season, during which Gardner-Webb won the National Christian College Athletic Association championship. (The president, Christopher White, resigned in October; the class that the player failed, for cheating, but which was not counted on his GPA, was in religion.)

What goes around:
Following a Detroit Free Press interview in November with bulk e-mailer Alan Ralsky (who gloated that his success at sending "spam" advertising had paid for his $740,000 home), Internet spam-haters tracked down Ralsky's West Bloomfield, Mich., address and inundated him with thousands of unsolicited hardcopy catalogs and mailings. In another case, following news that the Pentagon had hired former Reagan administration official John Poindexter to oversee the creation of software that could track nearly all consumer transactions in the country, an SF Weekly (San Francisco) columnist released Poindexter's home phone number, and Internet activists set up a Web site for tracking all of Poindexter's personal transactions.

Least competent people:
In 2001, a woman filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota (Engleson vs. Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce), seeking to recover for injuries she suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2002 by Judge Donovan Frank, who said the law does not expect anyone to warn people that there's a warning cone up ahead.

Our Civilization in Decline:
London's Daily Telegraph reported in December on a recent Peruvian military video that showed a dog being massacred and its innards eaten by troops training to become ruthless killers; a Peruvian official admitted that live dogs had been used in the past, but not since August 2002. Also, according to a December Reuters report, a surreptitious videotape surfaced of a ritual of elephant domestication in Thailand, in which a young elephant is forced from his mother and beaten for hours, to make him suitable for tourist attractions. (Thai officials defend their domestication program.)

Recurring themes:
The Japanese enterprise of paying strangers to come to private homes, pretend they are the occupants' relatives and exchange family gossip was reported by News of the Weird in 1995, and apparently business is still booming. According to an August Miami Herald dispatch from Tokyo, Kazushi Ookynitani's "convenience agency" supplies "friends" for weddings and funerals and even to sit in at college lectures (to keep a professor's spirits up). Recent wedding-party "friends" of one bride (who were paid about $500 each) were given detailed biographies of who they were to pretend to be, so as to mingle more interestingly with the bride's actual relatives.

Also, in the last month ... :
The World Bar (in New York City's new Trump World Tower) introduced a $50 cocktail (Remy XO, Pineau des Charentes, freshly pressed grapes, and a dash of liquid gold, among other ingredients). A 29-year-old man was arrested in possession of three homemade bombs, which he said he carried around in case he ran into al-Qaeda terrorists (Twin Falls, Idaho). A 45-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for the Pakistani crime of being a follower of a bogus prophet (Faisalabad, Pakistan). A carjacker made off with a Honda Civic following a struggle, but he did leave behind his colostomy bag, which fell off in the fight (St. Albert, Alberta). Two hours after a TV news crew visited a candle shop to interview the owner about holiday fire safety, a faulty candle in the shop started a blaze that gutted four businesses (Colorado Springs, Colo.). The University of Magdeburg yielded to longtime demands of the daughters of the late 1970s Red Army terrorist Ulrike Meinhof and gave back Meinhof's brain, which it had commandeered after her 1976 suicide (Koln, Germany).

2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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