Zimbabwe, facing a severe food shortage, is considering an unlikely program to bring rich foreign visitors to the country, according to a government announcement in November. The information minister proposed an "obesity tourism strategy," in which overweight visitors (especially Americans) would be encouraged to "vacation" in Zimbabwe and "provide labor for (government-owned) farms in the hope of shedding weight." Americans, the proposal noted, spend $6 billion a year on "useless" dieting aids and could be encouraged to work off pounds and then flaunt "their slim bodies on a … cruise on the Zambezi (River)."


Despondency caused by lack of sex is apparently such a problem among women in Japan that business is booming for counselor Kim Myong Gan's 4-year-old company of trained male professionals who invigorate them, according to a November Agence France-Presse dispatch from Tokyo. Kim charges the equivalent of $190 for the initial consultation and scheduling, and his men provide hands-on assurance to the clients of their attractiveness and desirability. Most clients are either middle-aged virgins or wives whose husbands have grown to treat them as their sisters.


In November, a Hindu seer in India's Orissa state drew large crowds, inspired by his calmness in the face of his announced, spiritually induced death, which was to come before noon on Nov. 17. At noon, however, he was still alive, and, according to Asian Age newspaper, the crowd of 15,000 suddenly turned ugly, berating him for not dying, and police had to intervene. The man, who is chief cleric of Srignuru Ashram, told reporters, "I wanted to leave my mortal body, but I could not. Please forgive me."


Some well-off taxpayers in Washington, D.C., are picking up an easy $30,000 or so from the U.S. Treasury, courtesy of a 1976 "historic preservation" tax code deduction, according to a December Washington Post investigation. About 900 properties qualify, and owners get the deduction merely by forgoing the right to alter the building's facade (which D.C. law restricts, anyway). Giving up this "right" earns them an 11 percent tax deduction, and the average value of qualified buildings (according to the Post) is $1 million – historic facades are not often found on downscale homes – meaning that a claimant in the middle tax bracket would get about $30,000.


William Glenn Barefoot, 40, escaped from jail in Fayetteville, N.C., in October and soon after that called his brother John to report that he hadn't eaten since the escape and that he was cold, in part because he had had to break out quickly and had not had a chance to grab his shoes. (He was recaptured a few days later.)


Mr. Mount Lee Lacy, 21, was arrested for animal cruelty after his girlfriend's mother sent police to his apartment in Gainesville, Fla. Lacy's aggressive mastiff kept the officers at bay momentarily, but once inside, police noticed another dog, a Jack Russell terrier, that had a bloody paw, and eventually Lacy cheerfully told them that he routinely bit the dog. According to a police sergeant: "(Lacy) said that biting the dog was good punishment and that's how you train them, that dogs bite (and) so that's what they understand."


Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: The dedicated or sanctimonious drunk-driving counselor or prosecutor who himself gets ticketed or arrested for drunk-driving, such as the aggressive supervising DUI prosecutor Lydia Wardell of Clearwater, Fla., who was found in November to be driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.23, almost three times the legal limit.

Also no longer weird: "imaginary" goods advertised on Internet auction houses. In November, Chris Doyle of Sydney, Australia, inspired by the recent $28,000 sale of a 10-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich with toast marks resembling a visage of the Virgin Mary, listed a grain of unnamed breakfast cereal that resembles the movie alien E.T. (and was offered about $800).


Doctors at the Ballarat-Austin Radiation Oncology Centre in Australia have begun inserting three rice-sized grains of 24-karat gold against patients' prostates. The pellets (cost: about $300 each) graft permanently onto the gland and help doctors aim the radiation with more precision. And in December, in Vancouver, British Columbia, local TV stations said they were reluctant to air a public service announcement provided by the Prostate Center at Vancouver General Hospital because it featured a prostate-examining doctor reaching inside his patient and pulling out a ticking time bomb (to dramatize how urgent it is for men to be examined).


Citing a police press release, the German news organization Deutsche Welle reported in November that the reason that motorist Julia Bauer of Bochum, Germany, lost control and smashed into a parked car and a lamppost was that she was preparing cereal and milk on the passenger seat while driving to work and tried to catch her bowl as it was falling to the floor. The cost of her breakfast (in damages) turned out to be about $27,000.


After Billy W. Williams, 53, skipped out during his trial for aggravated assault in 2003 in Dallas, he was found guilty in absentia, but Judge Faith Johnson apparently was not quite satisfied. When Williams was recaptured and returned to her courtroom in October 2004 for sentencing, Johnson organized a party in his honor, with balloons, streamers and a cake, to create a festive backdrop for her gleeful announcement that she was sentencing him to a life term.


From the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Daily police blotter, Dec. 2: "On Tuesday, University police took a report from a man (whose complaint was) that the word 'loser' was written in the dirt on his car's rear bumper."

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