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News of the Weird 

War news: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to Yasser Arafat deploring public bombings, at least when the bomb is delivered (as one was on Jan. 26 in Jerusalem) on a donkey. (Said a PETA official, "It's not my business to [comment on] human wars.") And to help the U.S. military, a Las Vegas porno distributor offered 500 videos free of charge (except for postage) to servicemen as thanks for their sacrifice. And in Cebu, Philippines, in February, a German man, Frank Oesterle, was detained by police after knifing an American tourist at a bar; they were arguing over their respective countries' views on imminent war in Iraq (i.e., U.S., fight; Germany, don't fight).

At odds: According to trial coverage in the Omaha World-Herald in October, the prosecutor of accused Omaha sexual assaulter Akhiktemelo Braimah said that DNA evidence indicated that the probability of another "African-American" besides Braimah having committed the assault was "1 in 30.3 sextillion" ("303" followed by 20 zeros). (30.3 sextillion represents 5 trillion times the number of people of all nationalities on Earth right now and 303 billion times the likely number who have ever lived.) (Braimah pleaded no contest two days later.)

Freshman faux pas: Freshman Missouri state Rep. Cynthia Davis, at a legislative orientation session in December in Jefferson City, took her turn at learning how to preside over debates and interrupted Rep. Chuck Graham, who had the floor. According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Davis recited the rule that members must be standing in order to speak and that Graham was thus out of order, in that the veteran legislator Graham has been in a wheelchair for 21 years, the result of a car accident.

People with issues: Retired pediatrician Alva J. Hartwright, 63, pleaded guilty in February to sexually assaulting two boys, age 11 and 14 at the time, by giving them enemas (part of a 30-year pattern, said prosecutors, of administering enemas to as many as 40 boys). When police arrested Hartwright at his home in June in Morrisville, Pa., they found "feces everywhere," with "so much feces in one room (that) it was impassable," said an officer. Also found were "thousands" of photographic images of boys receiving enemas, all of which, insisted Hartwright, were "medically necessary" and not sexually gratifying to him.

Least competent criminals: Tyrone Jermain Hogan, 20, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles in February to attempted carjacking, six months after trying to steal a van that unbeknownst to him at the time was carrying a martial arts team visiting from Florida International University; the students, said their instructor, held Hogan "like a pretzel on the ground" until police arrived. And Edgar A. Brown, 27, was arrested in Worthington, Ohio, in January and charged with robbing the First Merit Bank; police were tipped off after Brown paid his electric bill at a Columbus store using red-stained $50 bills.

Our civilization in decline: In a still largely underreported 1996 study by St. Louis University (revealed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in January), researchers concluded that at least 40 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States have suffered either sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual harassment, with nearly half of the instances perpetrated by priests or other nuns. The results were published in two obscure journals in 1998, but the study's sponsors otherwise squelched the news out of a desire not to harm the church's then-still-virtuous reputation.

News of the Weird story update: The late composer John Cage's "As Slow As Possible," now being played once, lasting 639 years, at a church in Halberstadt, Germany, has so far taken 17 months just to get the organ's bellows inflated and now will take 18 months more just to play the composition's first three notes, according to a February BBC report.

Also, in the last month ... : A disabled woman, noticing a fire in her apartment but having no telephone, alerted neighbors as best she could by firing several gunshots through a wall and out a window (Omaha, Neb.). State Sen. Ben Robinson introduced a bill to require restaurants serving barbecue meat to supply cloth napkins (which he said a campaign donor had asked him to do 15 years earlier) (Oklahoma City). The tourist director in the nation of Liechtenstein (60 square miles, population 33,000, between Switzerland and Austria) said corporations interested in holding conferences there would be allowed to rent the entire country, with the cooperation of all local officials.

2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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