News of the Weird October 17 2007

Lead Story: In August, a Roman Catholic bishop in the Netherlands, Martinus Muskens, suggested that Christians start referring to God as "Allah" as a way of relieving world tensions. "Allah is a very beautiful word. ... What does God care what we call him? It is our problem." A priest in Rome said Muskens' intentions were good, "but his theology needs a little fine-tuning." Muskens said he spent eight years in Indonesia, where Catholic priests used "Allah" during Mass.

Government in Action! Bookkeepers Wanted: 1) Pentagon investigators discovered in August that a small South Carolina company fraudulently collected $20.5 million in shipping costs, including one invoice of $999,798 for sending two washers (cost: 19 cents each) to a base in Texas. According to Bloomberg News, the Defense Department was said to have a policy of automatically and unquestioningly paying shipping bills labeled "priority." 2) The Senate Finance Committee found in April that more than 450,000 federal employees and retirees owe back federal income taxes (totaling about $3 billion), including almost 5 percent of the employees and retirees of the U.S. Tax Court.

Jane Balogh, 66, was informed in September that she will not be prosecuted for defrauding elections officials in Seattle, despite having illegally registered her dog, Duncan M. MacDonald, to vote. Balogh, protesting how easy officials have made it for people to vote illegally, put her home phone account in Duncan's name, which is all the proof required for registration, then signed him up, and when an absentee ballot arrived, she went public about her scheme. Despite the public confession, however, Duncan continued to be sent official absentee ballots for the two subsequent election cycles.

News That Sounds Like a Joke: Oral-B's Triumph SmartGuide toothbrush, available in the United Kingdom for the equivalent of about $280, uses navigation technology to transmit the exact location of the toothbrush to a base unit so that the user can see which areas in his mouth the brush might have missed. The wireless LCD mouth display can be mounted on a mirror or held in the free hand.

People with Too Much Money: The adolescent offspring of some well-to-do parents are serious art collectors, according to a September Wall Street Journal report, and their interest appears not to be motivated solely by parents' strategies to shield income from the tax collector. Dakota King, 9, for example, owns 40 pieces and specializes in animals and "happy colors." Shammiel Fleischer-Amoros, 10, who admitted, "I'm really scared, but Daddy told me I have to negotiate," succeeded in getting $200 knocked off of a $3,200 sculpture she really wanted. An 11-year-old last year "waved a paddle" to win a $352,000 Jeff Koons sculpture.

Obsessions: Just when Internet newspaper sites appear to be gaining ground as replacements for printed editions, a 70-year-old woman identified only as Maggie told the Edmonton Sun (Alberta, Canada) in September that her paper edition of the Sun is a crucial part of her daily diet, literally. She eats it, in strips, and has, she said, for the past seven years because it tastes good. "I can't explain it," she said, and it was only when she recently experienced a blockage of her esophagus, and doctors found a ball of paper, that she revealed her obsession. Doctors cited by the Sun said that except for the blockage danger, newspaper eating is not unhealthful.

Least Competent Criminals: Too Puny for a Life of Crime: Keith Bellanger, 20, failed in his attempted burglary in Duluth, Minn., in September when homeowner Wayne Boniface, age 69, walked in and beat him up so thoroughly that Bellanger had all his clothes ripped off trying to get away. And in Bay Shore, N.Y., in September, a 32-year-old man wielding a tire iron, who was attempting to mug Bruce Ferraro, 74, on the street, was forced to abandon the job and run when Ferraro, after a struggle, took the iron away from him. (The mugger was captured by police nearby when his car stalled.)

Recurring Themes: Some Americans continue to prefer to "do it themselves" to get rid of pests on their property, with tragic results. In June, Mike Harstad of Jamestown, Calif., attempting to eliminate a wasps' nest with a can of Pledge and a cigarette lighter, ultimately burned down his mobile home and contents, and destroyed an outbuilding, a truck, a boat and a trailer. In August, a Whitehall, Pa., man, William Sekol, 82, attempting to destroy a yellow jackets' nest beneath a storm sewer grate in his front yard, put a dried tree over the grate, doused it with gasoline, and lit it (supposedly to suffocate the yellow jackets underneath). Some gasoline ran into the sewer, however, where its fumes combusted. In the resulting explosion, Sekol's mustache and eyebrows were singed.

Undignified Deaths: Surprisingly Complicated: A 24-year-old woman in Lawrenceville, Ga. (in July), and a 59-year-old woman in Lincolnton, N.C. (in August), were killed after failing to negotiate driver's-side devices allowing them entrance to, respectively, a gated parking lot and an automatic car wash. The Georgia woman had leaned out her window to insert a card into the gate-opening machine when her car lurched forward and pinned her head between the car and the door. The North Carolina woman had reached out her open car door to punch in a code for the wash when her car lurched forward, similarly pinning her head. (Police in both cases said that the cars should have been in park.)