News of the Weird September 26 2007

Drug trafficking, religious messages and more

Lead Story: Until a July Florida appeals court ruling, Mark O'Hara, 45, had been in prison for two years of a 25-year mandatory minimum for trafficking in hydrocodone, based solely on the 58 tablets found in his possession in 2004, even though his supply had been lawfully prescribed by a physician. The state attorney in Tampa had pointed out that Florida law did not mention a "prescription" defense to trafficking, and even though O'Hara had lined up a doctor and a pharmacist to testify, the jury wasn't allowed to consider the issue. After the appeals court called the case "absurd" and ordered a new trial with the prescription evidence allowed, the state attorney still refused to drop the case.

Latest Religious Messages: God Is Love: 1) Charles Flowers, the director of the no-nonsense Christian camp Love Demonstrated Ministries, was arrested in August and charged with dragging a 15-year-old camper on her stomach behind a van after she either could not or would not keep pace on a morning run. 2) In August, Buena Park, Calif., Baptist pastor Wiley Drake acknowledged asking his congregation to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State because they had been calling for an IRS investigation of Drake for endorsing a presidential candidate (former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee). Said Drake: "The Bible says that if anybody attacks God's people ... children will become orphans and wives will become widows."

About a dozen Islamic punk-rock bands toured the United States this summer, according to a June Newsweek report, with most using their music as a loud protest of both U.S. treatment of Muslims and the corruption of Islam by violent fundamentalists. Bands such as Diacritical, Vote Hezbollah and the Kominas (Punjabi for "bastards") describe their music with the term (loosely translated) "hardcore piety."

Some radio stations in Israel have banned male singer Eliyahu Faizkov, 20, supposedly because he sings in a falsetto voice. According to some rabbinical scholars, Jewish law forbids men to listen to females' voices, or female-sounding voices, just as it forbids men from seeing certain uncovered parts of women's bodies.

Questionable Judgments: The medical association in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu reprimanded Dr. K. Murugesan in June after his arrest for unremorsefully allowing his 15-year-old son to perform a Caesarean section on one of his patients, for the sole purpose of qualifying the boy for a world record in the Guinness Book. The baby was born with a fatal congenital defect said to be unrelated to the surgery, but Tamil Nadu's health minister termed Murugesan's office a "butcher's shop."

Fine Points of the Law: In July, Maryland county judge Katherine Savage dismissed, permanently, a 2004 child-rape charge against a Liberian immigrant after finding that he speaks a rare tribal language for which no translators were available in time to meet the state's speedy-trial requirement. Nonetheless, according to a Washington Post report, the defendant's demand for a native speaker might have been a ruse, because he speaks English well enough to have attended high school and community college here and to have argued his innocence to arresting officers. The court actually found three translators (with a fourth in waiting), but each claimed unavailability. The Post reporter, also, found other translators who could have worked the case.

People Different from Us: In June, addiction experts at an American Medical Association meeting discussed whether to consider "video game addiction" as a distinct mental illness (ultimately deciding to await further study), but one month later, in Reno, Nev., a couple in their early 20s was arrested and charged with abusing their two toddlers by ignoring them for long stretches of time while playing the game Dungeons & Dragons. According to prosecutors, Michael and Iana Straw had plenty of food in their house, but both babies were found severely malnourished and ill in a home marked by squalor except for the expensive computer equipment that occupied the couple nearly all their waking moments.

Prolific Fetishists: Maeyasu Kawamura, 60, indicted in Osaka, Japan, in June (8,000 stolen pieces of women's clothing); Shigeo Kodama, 54, arrested in Hiroshima in February (3,977 panties, 355 bras); a 27-year-old man, accused by police in Waukesha, Wis., in May (1,500 pairs of teenage girls' shoes); Chih Hsien Wu, 43, charged in Fort Collins, Colo., in May (1,300 undergarments belonging to Colorado State University women); Garth Flaherty, 24, charged in Pullman, Wash., in March (1,500 women's undergarments, weighing 93 pounds); Kevin Parrett, 51, sentenced in Faulkton, S.D., in May (800 women's undergarments); Dan Trompke, 37, sentenced in Kearney, Neb., in August (more than 500 women's undergarments).

Recurring Themes: Some environmental groups continue to slight the environment when establishing exhibits to increase environmental awareness. The town council of Stoke-on-Trent, England, approved plans in July for a 21-foot-tall metal-sculpted tree to highlight the virtues of its public nature park, but first, 20 real trees would have to be cleared away, and then, to prevent injuries in the darkness, 38 powerful lights would illuminate the structure. And in August, organizers of an environmental-awareness festival on Magic Island near Honolulu proposed to the city to relocate about 15 shade trees to accommodate the brief surge of visitors expected, leaving, according to a civic group, a "hot, shadeless area" uncomfortable for future park-goers.