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News of the Weird 3/17/11

By Chuck Sheppard

21st-Century American Exports? In strife-torn Sudan (land of the Darfur murder and rape atrocities and a per-capita annual income of $2,200), an epic, year-long Ponzi scheme engineered by a lowly former police officer has enticed nearly 50,000 victims to invest an estimated $180 million (according to a March dispatch on Slate.com). At the height of the hysteria, even militia fighters in Darfur rushed to invest. (As Bernard Madoff was initially, perpetrator Adam Ismael is lounging comfortably under house arrest.) And in February, NPR reported that the United States government will soon be asked to bail out yet another bank that dramatically overextended itself with bad loans — and is now $900 million short: the Bank of Kabul in Afghanistan.

Cultural Diversity The essential uniform of super-ambitious Chinese businessmen nowadays includes a leather designer purse, reported the Los Angeles Times in a February dispatch from Beijing, and high-end sellers “can’t believe their luck,” now that “(b)oth sexes in the world’s most populous country adore purses.” The Coach company will have 53 stores in China by mid-year, and Hermes and Louis Vuitton are so optimistic that they built stores in less-obviously prosperous reaches of the country. (Apparently, only authentic designer items lend businessmen credibility. For the export market, China remains a world leader in trademark-pirating knock-offs.)

The Redneck Chronicles (1) An unnamed man was taken to St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla., in February with a gash on his face and a bullet (later removed) in his sinus cavity. KOKI-TV reported that police think “he might have been chewing on a firecracker or a bullet” when it exploded. (2) A 50-year-old woman was arrested in February in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after managers at a Family Dollar store accused her of walking out without paying for packages of baking soda and dishwashing detergent and a pair of thong panties (total value, according to Family Dollar, $7.50).

Ewwww! (1) The government of Malawi’s proposed environmental control legislation, introduced in January, was thought by some advocates to be broad enough to criminalize flatulence. The justice minister said the section about “fouling the air” should cover extreme flatus, but the country’s solicitor general insisted that only commercial air pollution was punishable. (2) Only 20 percent of Cambodians have access to toilets (half as many as have mobile phones), and missions such as International Development Enterprises blanket the countryside to urge more toilet usage. In one promotion campaign in Kandal province, according to a February BBC News dispatch, an investigating team called a public meeting and singled out (“amid much laughter”) one particular farmer whom it had calculated as producing the most excrement of anyone in the village.

Latest Religious Messages “I thought, ‘Man, is this what Jesus would do?’” said Akron, Ohio, repo man Ken Falzini, after surviving a short, harrowing ride clinging to the hood of the Lexus he was trying to repossess from Bishop Marc Neal of Akron’s Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in January. Neal, later charged with felony assault, told a reporter he thought it “disrespectful” for Falzini to try to repossess a preacher’s car during Sunday services. Falzini said Neal was “laughing” during parts of the drive, which included sharp zig-zagging at speeds around 50 mph to dislodge Falzini from the hood.

• In Britain’s Coleraine Crown Court in February, Colin Howell, convicted last year of a double murder (of his wife and his girlfriend’s husband), testified at the girlfriend’s trial for the same crimes that he frequently drugged her during their sex sessions. She had requested to be unconscious during sex, according to Howell, so that she would not be bothered by “Christian guilt” over the extramarital affair they were having. (The trial was ongoing at press time.)

Least Competent Criminals (1) To conceal an arrest warrant for auto theft, Amos Ashley, 62, told traffic-stop officers in Lawrenceburg, Ind., in February that he was (as he wrote on a paper for them) “Rorth Taylor.” (“Pronounce it,” ordered a trooper.) “Robert Taylor.” (“Spell it once more, please.”) “R-e-r-e-r-t,” wrote Ashley. (“And ‘Taylor’?”) “T-a-y-l-o-e-r.” Several more attempts followed, until Ashley finally admitted his name and was arrested. (2) Police in Princess Anne, Md., arrested George Ballard, 25, inside a PNC Bank at 11 p.m. on Jan. 25 after a motion detector sounded. Officers said the “cash” Ballard was in the process of taking was in fact a stack of fake bills the bank uses for training.

A News of the Weird Classic (April 2007) Doug Guetzloe, one of central Florida’s most prominent political operatives (and a subject of investigations by the Florida Elections Commission and an expressway commission in Orlando), had long infuriated prosecutors with his slippery denials of knowledge of unethical campaigns that they were certain he was deeply involved in. However, late (in 2006), Guetzloe missed a payment on his rental storage locker, and 50 boxes of his professional and personal records were seized and auctioned for $10 to a curious citizen, who then gave them to Orlando’s WKMG-TV, which had several earlier investigations of Guetzloe still open. Based on early readings of the storage-locker papers, Guetzloe was quickly indicted for felony perjury.